Developer: iChromo
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★★
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

I covered Aera back in July right when I saw the very first released screenshots from iChromo. Coming from a seemingly small developer and being so unique, I felt like it was my civic duty to show everyone the sheer beauty of the game. I knew that the screenshots were from a very early build, but they were already something to behold.

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After a good three month wait, Aera finally dropped onto the App Store. I knew the game would be pretty, but I really had no idea what I was expecting in terms of gameplay. What we have here is a hybrid 3D biplane shooter on a two dimensional playing field. Basically, your plane can move only backwards and forwards along the screen, allowing for as many twists and (up and down) turns as you feel like performing. The controls of the game are quite simple. All of the games movement uses tilt controls, and they are quite fluid, allowing this game to work as well as it does. Moving the plane up and down requires just a quick tilt your phone to the right and left, while performing a quick tilt away from you flips your plane upside down. Other touch controls include the ability to touch anywhere on the right edge of the screen to shoot, a rechargeable speed boost in the top left, and homing missiles/mines on the bottom, which are undoubtedly pretty useful.

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The entire game includes 10 levels that are split up into three varieties: solo, fight, and race. Solo flights have you flying through an obstacle course of sorts, dodging land mines while collecting a certain amount of tokens in a certain amount of time. It’s hard to explain the feel of the solo flights, but to me they reminded me of playing the coin collecting sled races in Mario 64 for the first time. Sure, it’s a bizarre reference, but it’s the only memory I have of being wowed by a games increadible depth of scope. Just imagine stressing your propellers to fly straight up in the air to get to a hoop, flipping over for a dive bomb to avoid 3 air mines and having the screen pan way out, showing you the entire background landscape, with your next target just a bit below you. It’s a unique experience, Fight levels are basic dogfight adventures, and are surprisingly fun given the fact that you cannot turn your plane right and left. Race levels on the other hand are the bane of my existence. The first race level in the game took me about 20 tries. Maybe I’m just quite bad, but I’m convinced that the racing levels are just plain hard.

The real selling point for the game though isn’t tilt based controls or mission variety, it’s the games cinematic immersion factor. I can play all the airplane games I want on the iPhone, but this is the only one makes you really feel like you are experiencing something. Dogfights, my favorite of the level types, have you twisting and flipping around the screen, albeit in a straight line, in an attempt to get your machine guns in line. The thrill of dive-bombing with the ground rapidly approaching, hearing the sound of your engine spin out of control, while shooting down an unsuspecting plane from above is an experience that is unique to Aera alone.

Aera truly is a fun game, and at $2.99, is at a palatable price given the extremely high production value. People will probably complain about the lack of replay value, with only local 1v1 multiplayer available at the moment, but the developers are promising more levels and more things to do in future updates. If you are a fan of airplane games, or just enjoy ‘pretty’, pick this one up today. You won’t regret it.

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