I guess I’m a sucker for old school shooters. When I was a little chap, it was about the vertical shooters like Galaga and Centipede. As I grew older, I found myself starting to lean towards the horizontal shooters as well including R-Type. However, I did not find myself playing a shooter from start to finish until I came upon a game for the Turbo Duo (Turbo Graphix 16 w/super cd attachment). Actually it was the pack-in for the system. That game was Gates of Thund…r. A game that really had it all. Great graphics, hard bumping sound, a hard yet rewarding difficulty system & easy controls all made for a fantastic game. Fast forward fifteen years to the XBOX 360 console and we get a little shooter for XBOX Live called Aegis Wing. Offered for free to North American XBOX Live members, this game hoped to put some kick back in a genre that has been long forgotten.
Aegis Wing is basically a 2d-shooter with a few 3d elements thrown in not to make anybody too cranky. The backgrounds while gorgeous are not interactive. The interactive items such as your ship and all the enemies including other ships, bosses, and stationary mines are very nicely rendered. However, on occasion they have a tendency to suffer from the too many things on the screen at once syndrome. This can cause you to loose sight of your ship and sometimes run smack dab into a mine or speeding ship. There are also several good looking effects; such as using the Gorgon Burst which creates a ripple effect onto neighboring enemies and projectiles.
Audio is rendered in brilliant 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound. This game has that driving sound I alluded to earlier as it keeps up tempo and keeps you interested from stage to stage (or if you end up playing the same stage again). The bass will stir up the best things in your subwoofer. Sound effects mostly stay in the center channel and are just spread to the other channels. The sound effects do feel accurate but don’t deviate too much from the zings and zaps we associate most shooters with.
Aegis Wing was developed by three Microsoft Interns in the summer of 2006. Carbonated Games stepped in from there to make the game a reality when it was released in May of this year. The story is simple as shooters go where you are piloting a small ship against an immeasurable amount of foes. Some stages include mini and final bosses while some are just straight shoot down all the ships and you can continue to the next stage. The ship starts out with a single non-upgradeable weapon but you can collect power ups with limited uses along the way. There are four types of power ups including the Arcus Missile,(multiple heat-seeking missiles that really seek!) Hades Beam, (a powerful beam that destroys any small ship and hurts many large ones)Gorgon Burst, (A weapon that sends out a magnetic pulse which disables enemies (but you can still crash into them) and cancels out incoming projectiles)and the Lambda Shield (a temporary shield which deflect incoming shots). The only bad part about these power ups is that you can only carry one at a time. This forces the player to strategize when having a certain power and not always pick up every power up they see. In addition, there is an occasional health icon which raises your shield back up to full health.
Controls are solid, after a little while you will find yourself weaving in and out of tiny spaces all through the game. As mentioned above in the graphics section, this game can suffer from too many objects on the screen at once. But since the control is quite good; you shouldn’t realize this too much. This title also supports 4 players co-op at the same time; via same console or via XBOX Live. The main advantage to this is that you can join your ships together. Here one player controls the ship while the others form a 360 degree firing arch. The super weapons also become more powerful with each ship that joins to make the combined ship. Difficulty is what I like to call rewardable. The first time you play the game, you might find yourself dying rather quickly. Once you learn patterns and why certain ships act the way they do; you can start progressing thru the stages. However, it will start to get faster, causing you to adapt quicker. But the trick is or what should happen is that each time you play it; you get a little better. This is until your skill runs out or you run out of game. Thankfully, if you do happen to learn the tricks and beat the game in Normal mode, there is an Insane mode. If you beat that, you unlock a mode where you can play any level you desire. This would help greatly for the achievements like Diplomat where you have to fly through a certain stage and not fire a single shot. The problem is you can’t do this on any stage with a boss. The first stage where that is possible is the second stage which means without that you would have to play the 1st stage over and over.
Once you beat the game, you can replay it in Insane mode which is naturally harder with more countless enemies. The main issue with either of these modes even with added difficulty is that it is only 6 stages long. This game won’t take you very long. The multiplayer does liven up things a bit, but this won’t take very long either unless you have inept players or some nasty lag via Live. Achievements do help replay a tiny bit with the 12 achievement / 200 point variety. Most of them are quite simple (score 30,000; get halfway thru the game, etc) while others can certainly be more taxing (beat the game in Insane or don’t take one hit for the entire level). There are also a few achievements that deal with multiplayer aspect that are worth unlocking. If all else fails, check out your score on the XBOX Live Leaderboard; of course as usual this might make you rethink your video game skill all together :).
Often free games (even ones for a limited time) don’t push the envelope. They might show off a few cute features but really are bland and make you wish for something more that naturally costs more money. Aegis Wing is a brilliant little game that tries to go past that. It has great gameplay along with the usual exceptional XBOX Live enhanced graphics and audio. It reminds this gameplayer of a time forgotten, one where games drove you to play again and again trying to get a slightly better score than your last effort (and making sure that you are top of your friend’s leaderboard if nothing else). Sure you might blow through this game in no time and even score all of the achievements, but it will be a fun way to kill time (and perhaps wish that either Gates or Lords of Thunder would be released on XBLA) and make perhaps a couple of friends along the way. I don’t hesitate to recommend this title if you haven’t downloaded the game already. It’s not a waste of time even if you happen to read this review after the game goes up to probably 400 points ($5). It’s a fun diversion and one that you might even show off to your friends who want to start downloading games on XBOX Live Arcade.