We’ve all heard the story of Amelia Earhart: the first female American aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. On a flight across the globe, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean and was never to be seen again. Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings has absolutely nothing to do with this fascinating tale but the main character does share the same first name so… let’s get to the review.
Airheart is a rogue-like, twin-stick shooter with an aspect of fishing in the skies; sky fishing to be exact. You take on the role of Amelia, a young fisherwoman who is seeking a lost fortune at the edge of the world that her father swears exists. Collecting fish at various tiers in the skies, which is done by literally running your plane into them, can nab you this fortune and the higher you go the higher the quality of fish you can catch. Some of the bigger fish can’t even be caught immediately, you have to use your harpoon gun to drag them back to your base.
What are you specifically collecting and selling? Fish oil. This fish oil nets you coin that you can use to buy weapons and plane parts. You can also sell the weapons and plane parts back for less coin if you find that they are no longer needed. Weapons range from typical machine gun fire to full on guided rockets. They have various damages and fire rates while the plane parts can give you more hit points, agility, speed and special skills such as laser sights or special shield protection. Seems pretty simple so far, right? So what’s the catch (pun fully intended)? Well, the higher you go in the skies the more sky pirates (the enemies) there are making it harder and harder to collect the fish you want. The sky pirates can be small planes, land turrets and even big blimps. This unexpected yet interesting idea for a game had my gaming emotions torn from side-to-side wanting more but slamming my head across the table at the same time.
Airheart’s levels are built vertically and you must find special bases in the areas in order to make your way up to a higher level. The really beautiful part of these levels is that as you climb the skies and still see the previous levels you left below in the distance. It keeps everything together in one package. The levels start out simple with some friendly planes doing the same thing you are, which is catching fish for fish oil, and then they progress to involve enemies, obstacles, bigger fish and even bosses. You can take out these friendly planes and blimps but if you do, get ready for a fight with police planes. Sometimes you have to resort to desperation to get what you need.
The bosses can be found on specific levels and you have to defeat them in order to move up to the next set. The bosses are not alone and are surrounded by your typical obstacles and enemies so the frustration of getting through these parts can be overwhelming for some. My strategy was always to stay as far away from the enemies as possible and shoot from a distance. This generally made the game easier for someone who doesn’t want to get into the thick of things. On a negative note, don’t worry there are plenty of these, advancing past a boss does not give you a checkpoint. If you return to base after climbing the skies then you have to climb back up to the level you left off on. This means you have to memorize where the bases are on each level in order to make your way up faster. If you forget where a base is then you will find yourself flying around levels just searching for them over and over again. This makes the climb to where you left off frustrating and a continuous grind.
As you collect fish in a specific level the population will lower until you leave that area for a various amount of time. On occasion you will want to take that risk to the higher levels when you aren’t quite prepared for it just to collect the higher quality fish and get more money. The danger in this is finding tougher enemies that can nearly one-shot you if you have lower-tier plane parts. I did find that I could slowly stay on the outskirts of the levels and work my way in while taking out plane after plane, blimp after blimp, turret after turret until there was nothing left. It may be a cheesy way of doing things but it works for those that are more defensive in their strategies. The risk is definitely worth the reward if you have the controls down pat.
At first I had a very hard time understanding the controls because I was more focused on the exact movements of the plane rather than how the controls actually worked. Once I understood that I was flying the plane in the directions I pushed, the game became wide open in a good way. I felt like I could weave my way through enemy gunfire with ease and avoid obstacles with no problem. You can change the controls to your liking but I would recommend sticking with the default steering.
Ready for the hardest pill to swallow in the game? There is permadeath. This is a rogue-like and you will not be happy when reality hits that you have lost everything and have to start from scratch. Once your plane gets low on hit points the game gives you plenty of opportunities to return to your base safely but if you are a risk-taker and all of a sudden find yourself with zero hit points it becomes a life or death situation. The game gives you a lot of leeway with this by giving you time to crash your plane into the base and saving your progress but that moment when you miss the base and go spinning out of control to the ground makes you more frustrated than even a Dark Souls’ death. When you do crash safely, which is such a weird thing to say, you have the possibility of having one of your plane parts destroyed or the loss of collected resources. This is an unforgiving mechanic in the game and it made me shut it off many times before restarting another run.
Crafting is one of the most confusing elements of the game at the start. You are collecting random parts on the levels before returning to the base and once you have returned home there is nothing that runs you through what you are supposed to craft or why. It is a guessing game because you are just throwing in random resources hoping that it creates something and this discovery mechanic is a little bit difficult to understand. Once you do find something to craft you have to remember what resources made the specific item every single time. The game doesn’t remember this for you. You end up getting a pen and paper in order to ensuring you will never forget. Sure, they tell you what items can be crafted with the resources you have and they also tell you if you have the right or wrong resources in place but only after you have paid coin for a failed crafting experience. Yes, it costs coin to craft as well. Crafting items allows you to potentially save some cash and just craft the plane parts or weapons. It is much easier to buy everything with coin but you will end up collecting so many parts that you will inevitably craft something for your plane.
The soundtrack confused me a bit. Some areas would have a western-acoustic melody while others would be more atmospheric. Sometimes the music fit the situation and sometimes it was an odd choice. This is not one of the better soundtracks of the year but it won’t detract you from your overall experience.
As I said before, Airheart tore my emotions from side-to-side. I still don’t know how to fully feel about the experience. I had a great time once the controls were figured out but the crafting, fear of permadeath and the overall grind of the game left me frustrated. It is a steep learning curve to say the least. Look past all of this and you have a witty yet complex title on your hands.