Reviewed on Xbox One

As I sat down to play Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron, I noticed the familiar statement, “The following persons and events are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental”. My immediate thought was that a World War II shoot ‘em up sounded intriguing, but it’s hard to believe anyone would mistake this game for a historically accurate experience when you’re dogfighting with a UFO and a flying train. However, looking at the game purely as a shooter, HandyGames’ Aces is a simplistic and enjoyable old-school scrolling shooter.

Mechanically, it is everything you would expect it to be: hordes of enemy ships lining up for you to destroy, dodging a vast number of enemy projectiles to conserve your health, and regular power-ups to increase your firepower from normal bullets to firing several rotating lasers that demolish everything in your path. It may be an exhilarating time as you speed from mission-to-mission, shooting and bombing your enemies to pieces, but there’s a weird discrepancy that’s always here: everything is so slow.

Every enemy in the game moves around the lengthways battlefield with the easiest-to-dodge movement and projectile patterns in any modern shooter. If the game wasn’t slowed done enough, each member of the team – Mark Taylor, John King, Melissa Monroe, and Steve Davis – suffer from peculiar afflictions that require you to slow down and change your flight pattern during each mission. Taylor suffers from a poison effect that requires you to move as slowly as possible. King goes into a fit of rage at the sight of Germans, requiring you to avoid him and enemy fire. Monroe has a fear of heights when changing altitudes (who knew a pilot could fear heights), requiring her to disappear for a short amount of time. Finally, Davis’ affliction sees him falling asleep at the wheel, demanding you to protect him until he wakes up. These handicaps may add a welcome variety in each level, but they ultimately get in the way of the fast-paced shooting you are expecting from this style of game.

Each chapter is split into five levels, with the fifth level concluding in an entertaining and slightly more challenging boss fight with an eccentric German pilot and their war machines. Although the primary objective is to shoot everything in sight, the game tasks you with recycled and repetitive side missions – making the game slightly boring. These side missions include saving survivors stranded at sea, dropping supply crates to your fellow ground forces, or destroying fortified blimps. These side missions can be completely ignored but they reward you for completion with maximizing your rewards in acquiring skills points for upgrades.

The skill tree does provide an important strategic style to the game based on the abilities you unlock. You earn skill points through leveling up, which can then be used to improve each pilot’s movement speed, fire rate and damage dealt. Additionally, these points can be used to unlock special abilities depending on the required situation. If you need to be more defensive, Monroe’s mechanic ability repairs some of the plane’s health. On the other hand, if you want to obliterate everything on-screen, you can unlock an active ability that deals damage to all enemy planes using bombs. Despite the simple, strategic nature of the system, the game doesn’t present much of the challenge to warrant unlocking these skills.

Each individual level also has an extra skill point hidden to discover. However, these points have no clear indication or hint on how to discover them. My frustration would grow when I would be replaying levels several times with still no luck with acquiring these points (or finding the new planes you receive as random rewards from boss fights). Additionally, the game tracks your high score, allowing you to replay missions to maximize your rewards and beat your previous high score.

This may be a console port but Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron is clearly a smartphone game at its core. Its backgrounds are minimalistic, the controls are simplistic, and the character and ship designs are straightforward. However, the voice acting is the biggest disappointment to the game. Even though the cast is fully voiced, it is also one of the worst cases of acting I have ever heard in a game. American pilots who clearly have a German accent, cheesy dialogue, and painfully unfunny jokes with awful delivery.

Aces of the Luftwaffe is an entertaining and simplistic side-scrolling aerial shooter. The familiar mechanics are the strongest feature of the game, but questionable design options, the voice acting, and the lack of challenge make a promising but flawed title in the genre.

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