Theres some kind of romance attached to the dog fighting pilots of the Second World War, lines are drawn in sand, the British were brave, tea drinking sorts who piloted their Spitfires with great skill, the Americans were incredibly patriotic and gung-ho, the Germans evil calculating and incredibly accurate whilst the Japanese would do anything to win, even if it meant losing their life. Watch any World War II movie featuring aerial dogfights and those stereotypes will make an appearance. Luftrausers kind of ties itself into that entire world, a world where men would take to the skies to protect their lands in displays of aerial ballet, albeit with a lethal edge (and in the case of Luftrausers specifically, without most of those tropes mentioned above).
In fact the game feels like it places you as part of the German Luftwaffe as a kind of test pilot for a wide range of weird and wonderful death machines, and a big part of the gameplay is reigning death upon other craft including planes, battleships and even blimps, you’ll also find yourself exploding an awful lot yourself, which suggests this particular group of German military types have managed to clone a large number of test pilots (or at least have an endless supply of willing volunteers). Theres no motive attached to any of this, and the above is purely how it all works out in my mind.
The hugely surprising thing about Luftrausers is how quickly it throws you into the action, almost immediately after launching the game from your Vita’s home screen you’re encouraged to “Press Up to Raus”, from there you find yourself zipping around the skies in a plane that handles a little like the ship from Asteroids. However, its not as simple as unleashing a hellfire of bullets upon the skies, because by shooting at things you risk taking damage yourself, this can only be repaired by taking a break from firing your guns to accelerate around the screen until your health has been replenished. Rather than filling the screen with all kinds of bars and other HUD style displays though, Luftrausers uses audio cues to tell you when you’re in any kind of danger or even when you’re out of said danger.
This isn’t the only way that it uses sound in a rather intelligent way. The game focuses around constructing different planes, so as you progress you unlock more parts, with there being three catergories in total. So thats guns, body and propulsion, each has their own positives and negatives and its all about finding what works for you, just because you unlock something a bit later on, it doesnt always mean its a better option. In order to unlock more parts you have to meet different goals for the parts you are using, which can be hitting a certain high score or taking down a set number of a particular enemy. Each time you change a part or create a new combination, your new creation gains its own name and to fit with that it also has its own soundtrack. Thus the game encourages experimentation and generally toying around, and its this element, plus the aspect of it having that “just one more go” feeling thats great for any arcadey handheld game that will keep you coming back.
Coming back to that mention of Luftrausers being “arcadey” for a moment, this isn’t meant in the way you would describe an arcade racer, what I mean by this is that with a set of earphones in and the volume turned up, the game really drags the player into the mindset of being in an old Games Arcade, as mentioned it has that “Just one more go” feel, which, tied in with its visuals and the audio, really digs into a sense of nostalgia that quite often feels like is missing from modern gaming, and its all of this tied together that makes Luftrausers a brilliantly compelling little title.