Aliens are causing trouble all over the world and it’s up to you to stop them. There’s a variety of colourful characters for you to pick from including a baby, a head-in-a-Jar and a dolphin (no, really) as you take to the skies to save the day. With frantic play, some great music and a dose of the quirky, Video System’s Aero Fighters 2 provides some highly entertaining gameplay. As the name suggests, this is the second game in the series, but the first on Neo Geo hardware; this is not another case of Hamster releasing a Neo Geo series out of order for these ACA eShop downloads, in case that's what you were thinking.
There are eight character options available and the plane of each has a different special attack as well as a different powered-up primary weapon; experiment to find the one that suits you best. The character choice also leads to different between-stage chat (further variations occur in two-player mode) as well as different endings, giving reason to replay through the main game.
Your limited number of special attacks destroy the smaller craft on screen (and take a chunk of energy from the larger ones) and are useful for getting out of a tight spot. Your main weapon doesn’t autofire, but this can be enabled in the options menu (although it is unavailable for the Hi-Score/Caravan modes).
There are ten stages in the game and after clearing all of them, it goes into a second more difficult loop. The third and seventh stages are low-risk bonus-like levels where wave after wave of invaders swoop onto screen, but don’t fire back. As long as you don’t ram into them it’s just a case of blowing them away and collecting as many of the score bonuses as you can.
Gameplay is fun, with numerous different foes to contend with. As well a range of aerial combatants to shoot down, stages over land feature tanks and turrets, whilst flights over the seas have battleships and submarines firing back at you. The game begins easy, but soon you’ll find bullets firing from multiple directions, requiring quick reflexes as you weave a safe passage through the barrage. As always, Hamster has gone for a faithful recreation of the original game, flaws and all - and this means there is slowdown when there's a lot of activity onscreen. It would, however, be a stretch to say it's a big problem.
The boss battles also entertain and can provide a tough challenge, with lots of fire to dodge and often limited room in which to avoid it. There are big ships, a small creature that plugs itself into a larger body, and a heavily-armed base. The highlight though is probably the one encountered off the coast of Australia; a battleship slides up from the bottom of the screen and as you instinctively start shooting at it, the real boss has a “that’s not a battleship, THIS is a battleship” moment and rams the pathetic blighter into oblivion before the huge warship opens fire on you.
An adventure taking place around the world allows for plenty of visual variety such as cities, a jungle and some Aztec ruins, and there’s lots of detail in these surroundings; cities have (admittedly stationary) cars on the roads and billboards on buildings. There are also a few landmarks featured, so you’ll be seeing the likes of the Sydney Opera House and the Arc de Triomphe on your travels, and a visit to New York will have you fly past the Statue of Liberty and over what we assume is supposed to be Coney Island. Good touches, although the ability to blow up the World Trade Centre for a points bonus is a feature that the passage of time has not been kind to.
Accompanying the onscreen action is a range of effective explosions and different weapon sounds, backed by some fantastic music that makes use of various sounds and instruments to provide adventurous excited tracks that add a lot to the experience.
The stages are short, but getting through them can prove to be a tough challenge as you often find the enemy fire gives you little room to manoeuvre and it can be difficult to judge when best to use your special attack. Of course, a visit to the options menu gives you a number of ways to make the game much easier, such as having up to 99 lives and even choosing whether a continue sends you back to the start of a stage or has you resume from where you exploded. You can also make the game more difficult if you like by reducing your lives, disabling continues or increasing the game’s difficulty from the default 4 to 8.
A challenge with longer appeal however, is either the 1-credit Hi Score or 5-minute Caravan modes. A standard feature with these ACA releases, they prove to be highly addictive as you aim to do a little better each time and move up those online leaderboards. Two-player also entertains as you take on the enemy with a friend whilst competing to see who can score the most at the end of it all.
With the eight options of fighter plane, lots of different enemies, frantic action and multiple endings, there's a lot to like about this game. Adding to the fun is the different locations visited and some entertaining boss battles. The game can provide a tough challenge and two-player is enjoyable, but it's the Hi-Score and Caravan modes that make it easy to keep coming back to. Providing top-quality shooter action, Aero Fighters 2 is a highly recommended download.