It's not easy being a star, having to worry about losing your place in the night sky. Aura-Aura has slipped and fallen from the heavens, crashing into the Earth far, far below, and you'll be helping him to resume his place in outer space in Aura-Aura Climber, Nintendo's own latest offering for DSiWare. By now, the DSi Shop is already well-populated with all kinds of arcade-style goodness, but Aura-Aura Climber is one you won't want to pass up.
You begin with the Tutorial, which walks you through the basics of helping Aura-Aura make his way back to the heavens. Tapping the A button will make him jump, and tapping it again will have him extend his grapple-arm, with which he'll grab on to Grapple Points. Some points are stationary, some move around the screen, and others allow the little star to swing around, rocket straight upward, or even trigger the appearance of new points that make your ascension a tad easier by opening new paths. Directing his jumps with the D-pad, you'll guide him from point to point through each vertical level, climbing all the way up to the glowing goal at the very top.
With the Tutorial complete, you're taken to the main menu, which introduces the other two game modes: Score Attack and Endless. There are ten normal levels to unlock in Score Attack, each one taking Aura-Aura higher toward his goal, and a Marathon level where you can play all ten back-to-back. As you progress through each level racking up the highest scores you can muster, the game gradually introduces new obstacles and challenges, including sparks which inflict damage, meteors that fall from the sky, and lasers that damage and may even kill Aura-Aura. Fear not, however, as items are provided to help him on his journey in the form of extra health, bombs that provide a boost and temporary invincibility, and other goodies. If they're too far away to jump at, you can nab items with your grapple-arm, so don't be afraid to reach out for any powerups you see as you pass. Score-boosting items are scattered throughout each level, too, and if you complete a level before your time is up, you'll earn a bonus for what time you had left on the clock. When the level is over, whether you died or reached the goal successfully, your score is tallied on the Results screen. The game saves the top three scores, which you may view at any time from the Records option on the main menu.
Chances are you'll miss a grapple point here and there and Aura-Aura will begin to plummet toward Earth again. If you build up enough speed and manage to snag a stationary grapple point on the way down, Aura-Aura will swing around and ricochet back upward a ways, briefly becoming invincible in the process. This physics-based 'Swing-Back' maneuver may be used strategically by seasoned players to get rid of enemies positioned close to powerups you crave as well as allow you to reach hard-to-get items without fear of certain doom, but don't get cocky. Though he survived one fall from outer space, if he falls to the bottom of a level from too high up, Aura-Aura will die whether you have full health or not.
Endless Mode provides you with serious enemies almost from the get-go, and the path into the sky only gets trickier as you progress. The idea here is to see how high you can go before your time runs out. Time extensions are included along with the rest of your available powerups now, which add a few seconds here and there, but once your time is up (or you manage to get yourself killed), your game is over. You'll be shown how high you got on the Results screen; like Score Attack mode, the game saves the three farthest heights for you in your Records.
As well as encouraging you to surpass your own high scores, Aura-Aura Climber features thirty different Medals for you to collect throughout the game. Some are earned automatically, and others must be triggered via certain events (performing three Swing-Backs in a row, for instance). Viewing the Medals portion of the Records menu will allow you to run through the requirements for each one.
Aura-Aura Climber is chock-full of subtle visual detail. You begin the game in either mode on the ground in a tree-filled forest and make your way up through the clouds, watching the background gradually color and grow ever darker until you reach the depths of outer space. The grapple points and enemies are all distinct against the backdrop of open sky, making it easy for you to see where you need to go next no matter how far along you are. As for the audio, each level in Score Attack has its own track, and they gradually morph their way from a plodding sort of down-to-earth sound to a space-y set of themes that mark your final ascension. The sound of Aura-Aura's jumping will fade into the background quickly as you begin concentrating on other important cues - charging lasers, enemies chasing you around the screen, and the ominous whistle of the little star-child hitting terminal velocity as he careens toward the ground below. This is an incredibly well-polished game overall, but coming from Nintendo, we'd expect nothing less.
Don't be fooled by its adorable exterior - Aura-Aura Climber offers an addictive arcade-style experience children and adults alike will enjoy. This surprisingly complex game features intuitive controls and fluid gameplay that will have you hooked as soon as you've finished the tutorial. With two different modes of play available, ten unlockable levels, and thirty different Medals to collect - not to mention the incentive of beating your own scores - Aura-Aura Climber offers quite a bit of replay value for your 200 points and is a very welcome addition to the DSiWare library.