Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings is a top down twin stick shooting and sky fishing game that has RPG elements, upgrades, looting and shooting, all combined in to one unique experience that sounds like if it’s done right, could be a lot of fun. Players take control of Amelia, a pilot and aspiring sky fishing rookie who’s goal is to catch the much talked about Skywhale, a task that’s proved impossible by past members of Amelia’s family who have all tried and failed. If achieved it promises unlimited finances and fame resulting in notoriety throughout. Unfortunately what it sounds like on paper just isn’t executed how it should be and it’s because of this that Airheart falls short in so many ways despite its undeniable potential.
The game takes place in the floating city of Granaria, a vertically laid out playground consisting of fish, sky pirates and loot. Each level has an amount of floating fish to capture which acts as a currency in order to upgrade your plane in quite a few ways including its weapons. There are different tiers that act as levels and each one gets tougher as you progress. Sky Pirates become more regular and also a lot more difficult as you rise throughout the levels. The gameplay is simple with a pretty easy to follow control scheme but the initial learning curve of the flying is a pain to get used to. The flying controls are set on their initial setting of ‘Absolute’ but I encourage anyone who picks this up to immediately change the flying control system to ‘Relative’ as it will make the experience a little more bearable, trust me, it will.
As long as you change the flying control, It plays quite well overall with some decent responsiveness and smooth enough transitions between the twin stick aspect of flying and shooting. Unfortunately it lacks the satisfaction that you may expect from a top down twin stick shooting style game and while the controls are fairly simple to master, the gameplay has no lasting appeal and combined with the repetitive level design, Airheart becomes boring relatively quickly. The initial ‘fish, loot and shoot’ aspect is good to start with but once I knew that was all I’d be doing, it almost became a chore to play. The crafting and upgrades system is a neat part of the overall experience with many different parts and upgrades becoming accessible as long as you loot enough materials and capture enough sky fish. There’s an abundance of upgrades that can be applied to the plane and they all have their strengths and weaknesses where having a balanced combination of artillery and boosts is a necessity.
While Airheart is certainly visually appealing upon first glance, it is sadly let down by the lacklustre level design mentioned above and also fails to deliver the promising atmosphere that is set up from the initial intro video and sadly falls short in this department. While it has Xbox One X enhanced support, it’s use of HDR (High Dynamic Range) is as dull as the level design and I feel that the visuals actually look better without HDR enabled. Sure, the cartoon style visuals aren’t bad and are done with some attention to detail but it’s somewhat boring looking despite there being many different colours popping out of the screen adding some vibrancy to it all. I also found there to be some really bad drops in frame rate, at points where there wasn’t much happening on screen too. For a game that is rather simplistic looking and isn’t as hectic as some games of this style can be, it’s disappointing to see such inconsistent frame rates. Audio though offers some lovely melodies changing upon each rise in tier to a more dramatic, heavier hitting musical score that is quite well done, but that’s pretty much all the audio offers that has any kind of appeal. The rest of the sound effects are pretty standard and generic adding little else to the experience. Pretty uninspired for an air combat game to be honest.
My biggest criticism of Airheart is in its unforgiving difficulty spike that literally comes out of nowhere. The first couple of levels are pretty easy going but once you get to the fourth tier, the difficulty level jumps pretty high, making it completely unenjoyable. I understand that the difficulty needs to be increased but such a jump is just going to make players want to turn the game off and can ultimately make the interesting levelling up and crafting systems a little redundant, because the difficulty restricts the players in gaining the required materials to upgrade what is necessary to get to much higher tiers of the sky. It’s unbalanced and unenjoyable beyond a certain point and needlessly punishes players for progressing. I’m all for levels getting tougher the further I get but to make it the way the developers have here is an odd decision. Airheart has all the attributes to be a fairly enjoyable title but it falls short in too many ways making it pretty disappointing despite its potential on paper. There really isn’t much point to it all and even the narrative pretty much disappears beyond the initial intro. It tries to be something but ends up being nothing and the parts that should be enjoyable are sadly let down by an overly difficult and pretty dull grind.