Tuesday, May 1

Review: Rogue Aces [Nintendo Switch eShop]

An old arcade classic that I consistently enjoyed, and didn’t have very many games like it, was named Two Tigers. Set out over the ocean, your objective was to bomb and sink a succession of battleships while trying to avoid being shot down by a variety of enemy threats. Much as with all arcade titles you’d essentially just keep having to do the same things, just with tougher opposition, but the core gameplay was challenging and it was fun to play in bursts and then return to. While the options for play and level of complexity is certainly higher in Rogue Aces I get hints of that same compelling gameplay from it, but also a feeling it is better played in bursts to keep repetition from setting in as quickly.

In Rogue Aces you’ll be piloting a fighter jet, as either a male or female, initially based on an aircraft carrier near enemy territory. Beset by waves of enemy planes, depending on which mode you decide to play, you’ll need to complete objectives like destroying bases, supply depots, tanks, or even just poor soldiers trying to get away from you. The feel is generally arcade-like, with you doing flips and generally ignoring the majority of gravity’s effects, but you will find that your plane can be quite fragile and vulnerable if you’re not careful to keep other pilots off your six in particular. In order to progress, or sometimes just because it is convenient, you’ll want to be good at spotting enemy airfields as they’re a particular target of interest. Go on a few strafing runs, hit it with your bombs, and if you’re able to blow away the key enemy buildings there you’ll have an opportunity to take the base for yourself, help your troops advance, and make your job of returning for repairs, refueling, and completing missions far easier.

While you begin with only the straight up normal campaign as you complete objectives and get further and further in you’ll begin to unlock more variations. There are arcade modes like Survival that will let you take on waves of enemy fighters and let you test your skills and then two additional campaigns that step up the challenge level quite considerably. The Frontline Campaign has you starting out from an initial island and then trying to slowly spread out to successively more challenging and better-defended islands until you reach the enemy base. This mode ramps up in difficulty pretty quickly and you’ll often be forced to go pretty far afield to meet your objectives so you’ll need to carefully weigh how much damage you can take before returning to base. The Veteran Campaign is simply a far tougher version of things where you’ll need to contend with more challenging circumstances and, more critically, you’ll need to try to land your plane yourself instead of relying on the very convenient auto-land feature.

Aside from the fact that, even being a roguelike, things are generally pretty repetitive quickly the game’s biggest issue is its somewhat inconsistent level of challenge. On the one side you have the auto-land feature, which honestly feels like a bit of a cop-out since you’re able to simply be in range of a spot to land and no matter you angle or speed it will handle things for you. On the other you can try to do it manually and find that managing the throttle, your position, and your angle is tricky and you’ll likely end up crashing spectacularly. A middle ground would have been appreciated and could have been moderately challenging rather than button-pressing stupid or overly complicated. One thing I would definitely have appreciated would also have been a radar or at least an altimeter. Especially when you’re first playing knowing precisely what type of target you’re being asked to take out can be confusing, particularly in the Frontline Campaign, as the symbols aren’t always very clear. An ability to understand what’s around you would have been nice as well. The altimeter may not have been necessary if the skies were more helpful in conveying your altitude but trying to keep track of how far you are from the ground, and thus whether you’re able to make certain maneuvers, would have been helpful and resulted in less crashes when it turns out you weren’t as high up as you’d thought.

While there are elements of Rogue Aces that work well, and I can appreciate the effort put into setting up some variations with multiple modes, I also found it better suited to short and moderately-long play sessions over long ones. A periodic break helped to keep it all from feeling quite so repetitive. Aside from the challenges with landing I think the balance strays too quickly to the extremes rather than having a tough but more fair sweet spot in the middle. Either I’d have a run in the Normal Campaign that ran long and felt too easy or I’d go to the Frontline Campaign and have significant leaps in difficulty by about the third island. There are some fun and crazy moments to be had like the first time you jump from your damaged plane into the cockpit of an enemy fighter to give yourself a new lease on life, but in the end there’s not all that much variety. If you’ve been itching for something that feels very arcade-like, this can be fun, but if you were hoping for something deep it doesn’t fare as well.

Score: 7.5

  • Satisfying arcade-style play and looks great
  • Taking enemy bases is fun
  • A small variety of modes that unlock help you tune your experience a bit more

  • At a high level the roguelike elements are limited to maps being procedurally-generated, but despite this the variety is still limited
  • In general there isn’t a very strong mid-ground of difficulty, your options are generally easy and hard… especially when it comes to landing
  • The lack of better cues to indicate your current altitude can result in needless crashes