This title was reviewed on Xbox One, but is also available on PS4 and PC.
I will always be fond of games that place new twists on existing genres or simply blend genres together, as they often lead to very original experiences. Airheart appears to be one of those games, as it seems to masquerade as a twin-stick shooter, but adds so much more to it that it ends up being something else entirely. Whether this new breed is actually a good one is largely up to how the new mechanics blend together. Is Airheart a flying success? Let’s find out.
The graphics here are pretty solid. The modelling is very well done on pretty much everything in the game, allowing players to spot more exotic fish in a crowd, differentiate hostile pirates from neutral planes etc. so they end up complimenting the gameplay very well. It also helps that the rest of the game is very easy on the eyes thanks to great colouring. What’s also a nice touch is that you can see the areas you have already been to below you as you play, and they are shown in such a way that you can’t confuse them for parts of the area you are currently exploring.
The basic story is that you play as Amelia, who lives in the flying city of Granaria. The inhabitants of Granaria make a living through skyfishing, in which they use planes to catch skyfish. Amelia makes ends meet by repairing planes for people, as well as skyfishing on the side, but she wishes for more. She hears rumours of a mythical sky whale, which lives in the stratosphere and is worth a lot of money to the one lucky enough to catch it. Amelia sets off to accomplish this goal. It is a pretty barebones story, as it doesn’t escalate besides the introduction cutscene, but it does at least set out the objectives and motivations decently.
The gameplay is pretty interesting when you first dive into Airheart. Your goal is to get to the stratosphere and capture the Sky Whale. To do that, you have to get up there. While in theory the game is open enough for you to make it to the top right away, there are so many obstacles in your way that you might want to upgrade your plane first. To do that, you need money. You gain money from fishing or collecting oil, each worth varying amounts of money. Fishing is your best bet, and so you use your trusty harpoon to help capture as many fish as possible, before heading back home to bank your cash and purchase upgrades for your plane. There are plenty of upgrades to grab, including new weapons and plane parts, each giving their own unique buffs and stats to your plane. These buffs include improved agility, hitpoints and speed. There are also a few other interesting effects, such as being able to carry 2 weapons on your plane instead of one. There’s so much customisation on offer that after a few upgrades, your plane will be unrecognisable from when you’ve started.
You’re going to need these upgrades as well, as the game does a good job of pushing a risk and reward system. Early stages in the game have very low value fish, with the more exotic ones being higher up in the sky. There’s also less chance of other money gathering opportunities, such as oil transport zeppelins that you can destroy for a huge haul of oil. This encourages players to go higher up early on using launchers to go up to the next level of the skyline to grab more exotic fish and more opportunities for oil. However, the higher you go up, the more threats await you. The sky is filled with pirates, and they won’t hesitate to gun you down, so you need to defend yourself. Thankfully, combat is well done due to it being a simple twin-stick design, and guns feel weighty thanks to recoil for both you and other planes. You can even use the recoil to your advantage if you shoot behind yourself for a speed boost.
There’s also numerous bosses such as pirate zeppelins and giant snakes to contend with, so it is up to players whether they want to risk damaging their plane for a chance to get a little more cash. The system does have its flaws however, as it makes the Cherry Blossom areas more of a chore than they need to be due to the high cost of items and the low value of the fish there, and it’s not like you can head straight to the next area either, as a pirate zeppelin awaits to wipe you out. This forces players to grind for quite a while in order to buy and craft enough parts to contend with the higher threats, and I ended up particularly uninterested by the time I was ready to take on the Zeppelin.
It also doesn’t help that the game has an incredibly frustrating punishment for death. When you’re low on health, you can skydive back down home to bank your cash. If you fail to do this however, you will be forced back down due to damage, and will lose most of your custom parts in the process. This was particularly bad for me when I had $1000s worth of custom parts on my plane, dual weapons you name it, and went to tackle a boss. When you first see a boss it does a cinematic slow mo camera shot, in which you can’t move. During said shot, something hit me dropping my health from 50% to 0% without me being able to defend myself, and when I crash landed back home, I lost the vast majority of my custom parts, forcing me to start the grind all over again. This frustration and early grind boredom almost ruined the game for me, as it felt incredibly repetitive early on and I ended up losing any impression of fun I had early on the longer I played, which is a shame given how solid the game was at the beginning.
The sound effects here are well done, with guns sounding like they pack a real punch, and planes having a satisfying clunk to them when you damage them. The music is also initially well done, with each skylayer having its own track and it sound very unique as a result. However, as you repeat the same areas over and over during your grind for plane parts, you’ll end up hearing the same music tracks over and over, and you’ll get tired of them quickly.
Initially, Airheart was a fun experience. Combat is satisfying, planes have great customisation, and of course the game is very easy on the eyes with its good graphics. However, the longer you play, the more cracks begin to show. The grind in the early areas is incredibly dull due to high upgrade cost and low fish value, and these upgrades aren’t permanent as you’ll lose the majority of them if you die, meaning you’ll spend a lot of your game time doing the same thing over and over again, whether you’re grinding for brand new items or items you’ve already bought but lost in combat. Airheart initially soars high, but its frustration and repetitive grind means it crashes and burns as you progress further into it.