March 24, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 38°F


Review: Aerial fighter provides rousing action


Developed by Vlambeer

Against manila skies, the Rauser emerges from a vanishing submarine. A burgundy biplane, it takes up a small fraction of the screen. Soon, other ships fly in, just as small. As the diminutive dog-fighting continues, larger adversaries approach the player, though 10, 20 times larger. The Rauser’s challenge is simple: fly, survive and conquer.

In the game “Luftrausers,” the player attempts to shoot down enemy boats, planes and battleships as players artfully dodge the increasingly chaotic tempest of enemies’ bullets. Developer Vlambeer is well known for its arcade-style games, and “Luftrausers” is no exception. Intuitive controls, simple graphics and a staggering soundtrack make the game easy to pick up and impossible to put down.

The soundtrack of “Luftrausers” is representative of the game as a whole. Each attempt begins the same, with the crash of cymbals and the sound of marching feet as the plane emerges from a sinking submarine. What comes next depends on how players customized their ship beforehand; sticking with the default parts, grungy, lo-fi beats rumble in, but switching out for the Superboost engine replaces the beats with an ominous synth, adding a dynamic twist to the experience.

As the frenetic dance between Rauser and enemy forces ramps up, the music cuts out and riveting horns and strings soar in, seemingly straight out of a WW2 propaganda film — the magnitude of exhilaration that fanfare brings is tremendous. By the time the tune begins, the combat has likely escalated to “bullet hell” level, and the foremost objective has shifted from getting a high score to mere survival. That break into orchestral rapture is inspiration enough to duck, dodge and persevere in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Players’ actions are realized in detail, making “Luftrausers” into an intensely satisfying venture. Destroying the larger entities like blimps or fighter jets will momentarily drag the view to the spectacular pixellated wreckage, dramatically enhancing the joy of toppling the titanic foes. However, even the smallest actions are still rewarding. Tearing through smaller planes causes their wings and bodies to fly apart after a small bang — five or 10 of those in short succession is nothing short of euphoric. Just flying down close to the sea causes the water to jettison skyward behind, a testament to Vlambeer’s attention to detail.

What ties everything together is the game’s brilliant sense of individuality and personality. The plane, the Rauser, is customizable, with 125 potential combinations of weapon, body and engine. These combinations can alter play style immensely, a brilliant example being the Hammerhead. Its chassis is built to be able to fly through enemies without incurring any damage itself, while the engine is able to safely go underwater. This adds up to a dramatic transformation, turning the default biplane into a flying, manned torpedo. If players weave beyond the battleships’ volley of fire, they can carve through their hull like a knife through butter. It’s rewarding not simply for the daredevil action, but also for personal ownership. The game simply lays the parts out and leaves it up to players to decide how to use them.

“Luftrausers” is not a game for everyone. It’s challenging — crushingly so, at times — and the rapid cycle of try-fail-retry can be discouraging to some. For anyone wishing to grapple against overwhelming odds, briefly flirt with glory and go down in a flaming hellstorm, “Luftrausers” is well equipped to hit that spot.