Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 18.01.2019

Review for Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron on Nintendo Switch

The Switch has seen quite a breadth of classic shmups being released on the eShop. This includes classics from the Neo Geo under Hamster's ACA brand of software, Psikyo's prolific line of ports from their back catalogue, soon to even be compiled on physical cartridges to be released in Japan in 2019... or even Nicalis's work on bringing Treasure's Ikaruga to the platform, with Radiant Silvergun being strongly considered for the future. Shmup fans have every reason to want a Switch, with the ever growing selection of great arcade classics already available, and yet a few original titles managed to slip on there too. Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron is one such title. This one has the particular point of attraction that it not only is a multiplayer one, but it focuses on it quite a bit, and goes beyond the typical two player co-op mode otherwise seen in the classic examples of the vertical-scrolling genre, like Twinbee, or the aforementioned Ikaruga, by allowing up to four players simultaneously on the same screen. With such promise then, it is time to dive right in!

World War II is over, and yet the Germans' air force, the 'Luftwaffe,' invades America with all sorts of weird powerful flying machines that really do look like the product of your stereotypical, Eastern European mad-scientist. This includes such things as giant flying fortresses, or Zeppelins armed with all manners of mammoth cannons of mass destruction. The most powerful of these weapons are called 'Aces of the Luftwaffel, and they look more like alien ships with a big iron cross (Eisernes Kreuz) logo on them than anything else. Where the player fits in all of this is in taking control of a squadron of four ace pilots that are the best chance America has to finally truly get rid of the German threat once and for all.

This is done, of course, in pure vertical scrolling shmup fashion. The screen presents the four players' aircrafts in a top down view, with blue seas and green fields scrolling far down below, while enemy units spawn from all directions (including behind the player à la Capcom's 1942), covering the screen in dozens or even hundreds of deadly, though slow moving bullets, moving in clearly defined patterns so as to be carefully avoided by skilled players. It is not really a bullet hell shooter per se, but it comes close.

While this is the core of the experience and it cannot be considered to be anything but a shmup, there is more to the experience that set it apart from the crowd of quality, but more classic shmups already available out there on the Switch eShop. Not the least of these is that new aircrafts may unlock upon defeating some of those so-called 'Aces of the Luftwaffe' bosses. Each selectable plane has a different look, of course, but the main draw resides in the bonuses, as well as penalties they carry - bonuses may be reduced damage from collisions with enemy crafts, or higher critical hit rates, while penalties may be reduced movement, speed or an elemental weakness.

Screenshot for Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron on Nintendo Switch

That's right, enemies attacking with electric bolts or flame-thrower weapons deal elemental damage, akin to what would usually be expected on RPGs, which therefore will deal the player more damage depending on which machine was selected. Moreover, depending on the one's performance on each stage, skill coins may be earned upon clearing a stage which may then be spent on each pilot's own skill tree. For example, unlockable skills may increase the duration of temporary weapon upgrades that randomly pop up during stages, increase damage output, or yet again improve the potency of the usual bombs that wipe out the screen, and that can be found in almost every shmup out there.

This skill coin system encourages players to go back and replay previous stages to try to unlock more of these points and invest in some well-earned skills that should make the later stages easier to get through. Each stage also has, beyond the simple fact of surviving the romp and defeating the boss at the end, extra objectives to complete, for more of those skill coins. Lastly, there is an achievements system in place which tasks the player to fulfil a wide array of requirements in exchange for medals that, unfortunately, the Switch not having any true achievement system built in, the player will never be able to proudly show the world at large.

Certainly, this shmup plays like one only in its pure gameplay and controls, because it includes elements of that are rarely found in the genre. Though each mission can only be unlocked in a linear fashion, the fact that the whole experience doesn't need to be beaten in one sitting, but can be halted in between missions to be picked up later, makes this a suitable experience for on-the-go bullet dodging and 'A' button mashing that feels truly satisfying and engrossing, since there is a real sense of character progression more akin to a role-playing title.

Screenshot for Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron on Nintendo Switch

Additionally, the multiplayer is front and centre in here. In fact, it is impossible to play it in single player mode without the other planes, which are controlled by the CPU when other players are absent. There is a valid reason for this however, since the plot, although a shallow one, requires all four pilots to be present at all times. Moreover, depending on the stage being played, and the events being depicted, something may happen to one of the four pilots that affects the gameplay for the one controlling it, such as the pilot going berserk and the losing control of what it does, or the pilot becoming scared of what's happening or dropping out of the battle altogether for a limited amount of time.

While fans of the purely arcade aspect of shmups may not appreciate too much control being taken away from them, from a more casual shmup fan point of view this shakes things up in ways that few shmups ever do, which makes it fresh. Because it is best appreciated with friends around instead of in solo, these events will likely bring out the laughs as the player affected may suddenly find themselves taken aback by the surprise.

However this also means that as a solo experience, the impact of Aces of the Luftwaffe is not quite as important since events that affect certain pilots do not always necessarily affect any human being present in the room and thus will not yield any human reaction to make the rest of the group laugh at it. The fact that partner planes surround the player's in solo mode and follow Player 1's inputs also makes it a hard task to keep them alive since they effectively act as shields for the player's own plane and therefore die very quickly so all told, the experience is best enjoyed with other human players around but once owners of this title manage to assemble a party of like-minded players, it is quite a pleasing experience.

Screenshot for Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron on Nintendo Switch

It really excels at that by even including a comprehensive stat system keeping track of various results, such as which pilot died the most or which player gunned down the most enemy units, which does make for some funny discussion amongst players in-between stages. It truly is a jolly good multiplayer time, but for one dark cloud that has to be addressed: the matter of input lag. This is not a consequence of the game being played in multiplayer since it happens regardless of the amount of human players, but Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron displays some apparent input lag. It is minimal, but there is a perceivable delay between the moment the player presses a direction and the moment the movement is replicated on the screen by the tiny aircraft.

It is easy to adjust to and the game thankfully never requires split second reactions as it is more destined to a casual shmup audience, so it is thankfully nothing game-breaking and can be considered a part of the game design because shooting never seems to showcase quite the same amount of delay. However this gets worse when playing with third party controllers that already exhibit some minimal amounts of input lag themselves even in wired mode, such as the 8Bitdo SF30Pro or SN30Pro being used for the sake of this review. The input lag from both the controller and the game stacking up truly make the game a chore to play, so anyone out there interested in picking this up would do well to consider sticking to official controllers to keep the experience thoroughly fun.

In terms of presentation, while things may look rather simplistic and not like something that pushes the limits of what the Switch is capable of, the simplistic 2D presentation works in favour of readability of the action and ensures that frames keep being churned out without ever dropping a single one. Load times however, in particular on boot-up and upon starting a stage can unfortunately be frustratingly lengthy, a situation sadly seen too often on the Switch, but which some developers seem to be able to handle better than others.

Screenshot for Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Light input lag and lengthy load times aside, Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron is an excellent party style shmup the likes of which are very rarely seen. In fact, no other shmup quite like it, in how multiplayer-centric it is, comes to mind. It may look rather simplistic, but it proves to be top notch in its game design, apart from the fact that the game is not quite as enjoyable in solo as it is in multiplayer. For all those out there able to gather three or even just one or two more players for long enough to see the full experience through to the end, however, it turns out to be a memorable piece of software, and an enjoyable experience that, who knows, may bring the band of playmates back together for more beyond the scope of the single adventure.

Developer

HandyGames

Publisher

HandyGames

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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