Having recently announced it will be adding Video System titles to its Arcade Archives series, it seems likely that HAMSTER will make the original Aero Fighters available on Switch at some point. Before then we have Aero Fighters 3, offering similar shooting action to the excellent (and already available) second title. This time there are ten playable characters to choose from as you battle through eight fun levels either on your own or with the help of a friend.
There are some new and some familiar faces in the lineup, with each choice providing an ending after completion of the eighth level. Endings also feature for the two-player teams, but unlike with the second game these teams are fixed; if player one is the ninja Hien, player two will always be movie star Mao Mao.
Aside from aesthetics, each pick offers weapon differences with upgrades adding more noticeable variety as spread is increased or a scattershot, missile or laser attack is added to the regular cannon. A limited number of bomb attacks (more can be collected) are available to get you out of tough situations or deal large amounts of damage to a boss. These too vary between characters, with some performing energy blasts rather than bomb drops, calling in extra planes to help or in the case of Keaton, transforming into a giant version of himself to punch away at the bad guys. A couple of characters (including dolphin Spanky) can also perform charged shots, giving you another option to use as you attempt to defeat the enemy forces.
Settlements obviously have more detail than a flight through the clouds, but the visuals work well and are helped by the variety of things trying to shoot you down; some regular in appearance, others more alien in design. Some aircraft, boats, tanks and turrets turn their attention to you, sometimes emerging from gaps in the scenery, other times emerging from the smoking rubble of a building you’d destroyed for some extra points. Sound effects, naturally, include some firing noises and explosions and there’s some energetic adventurous music too. Some tracks feature vocalisations (admittedly this at times devolves to simple yelling) which in general adds to the atmosphere.
Although you’ll play through eight stages en route to your ending, these stages come from a selection of 18, allowing for differences on subsequent playthroughs although it is possible to choose your path if you know what to do. The stages themselves are quite short, with one captured in its entirety using Switch's 30-second video clip function. The bulk of the time on the levels is spent fighting the bosses.
These battles are fun and frantic affairs as you manoeuvre your way through different attacks, blasting off pieces of the boss when you get a chance. Variety again adds to the appeal of these encounters with you fighting the likes of mechs, rockets, battleships and a metal fish. There are also four possible end-of-level-eight boss fights ranging from a flying saucer to a dancing mahjong tile.
The game can get quite difficult at times, not just due to the patterns of different attacks you’ll be dealing with, but their speed too. Some bullets give you ample time to slide past while others are quite rapid, requiring quick reflexes to avoid an explosive end. Offering some respite from these hectic battles are the third and sixth levels (essentially bonus stages) that enable you to rack up the points, although you are not completely safe from destruction. The meteor-like stage in particular may cause you to come a cropper, but generally there’s less chance of failure here than on others stages.
After viewing your ending, the game begins a second more difficult loop, but unlimited credits are on hand to help you out. Diving into the options menu you can adjust things such as the difficulty, number of lives and even whether a continue will send you back to the start of a level or have you resume from where you fell. These options can be used either to make the game a pushover or to customise a challenge.
For a set challenge, the usual one-credit Hi Score mode is available as is the five-minute Caravan mode. With a varied choice of characters, branching paths and various things to blast for points, there’s a lot to experiment with as you try to improve your placements on the online leaderboards.
Having fixed pairs in two-player mode is a definite step backward and pre-boss portions of the levels can be very short, but the action is fast and enjoyable. There's plenty of dangers to contend with and there are some options available to take out the enemy forces, adding to the fun whether simply shooting them down or attacking with a matryoshka doll. Branching paths allow for varied replays and there's plenty of enjoyment to be had from trying to improve your score. Aero Fighters 3 is another great shmup among the growing library on Switch.