Airheart: Tales Of Broken Wings Review
Airheart: Tales Of Broken Wings is the latest game from Blindflug Studios and appears to be, at least narratively speaking, a sequel of sorts to Cloud Chasers.
Cloud Chasers was a critically well received adventure game that saw a father and daughter traversing a dangerous world to try and reach safety in a city in the clouds. Airheart tells the tale of Amelia, a young girl who managed to make it to Granaria, the city in the sky, but finds out her father could not join her. Worse still the city is far from a paradise and it takes grit and determination just to survive. Amelia makes her way by toiling in a workshop and doing the odd bit of skyfishing to make ends meet. But she has dreams of catching the mythical Skywhale that roams at the highest altitudes and this is where the adventure starts.
Having a whole separate game to set up a backstory is a luxury very few stories get unless they are straightforward sequels utilising pretty much the same gameplay. Airheart plays very differently to Cloud Chasers, it’s a rogue like, twin stick shooter set up as a top down flight simulator fishing game. Quite unique. That’s made all the more compelling by the hard work that went into the world building and, perhaps most importantly, the incredible soundtrack.
The first steps you take in the game after the short intro are to get your Skyfishing licence sorted out. This is essentially the tutorial where the game teaches you to fly, shoot and acquire resources. The city above the clouds is basically founded on floating rocks and skittering about amongst this floating debris are flying animals called Skyfish. You make most of your living in the game from flying over these schools of Skyfish and selling them back in Granaria but you can also get scrap and junk from other, usually pirate, ships you take down. This leads into the hefty crafting portion of the game where Amelia can make provisions and upgrades for her plane as well as just straight up purchasing new equipment. One of my favourite parts of this game is that everything that you upgrade and modify on your plane is represented visually on the model of the plane itself. It makes the farming and crafting a lot more worthwhile when you can see the fruits of your labour.
The gameplay difficulty is defined by how far you soar into the skies. The first altitude level is pretty close to Granaria and only has a few pesky pirates in small aircraft buzzing about. But the higher and higher you decide to go the more challenging the game becomes. Sure there are more plentiful and more valuable Skyfish up there but there are also some heavy duty reavers who are more than happy to take your plunder off your hands. But best be careful if you get shot down, you’re going to have to try and steer your crashing and burning plane past all of the floating rocks and other ships to try and crash back on Granaria and repair your ship. Because if you miss and crash on the harsh deserts below or obliterate yourself on the way down then I’m afraid that’s perma-death my friend. It’s a lot safer to stick to the lower level and harvest as much as you can to build a powerful craft to take you to the upper reaches. But unfortunately that can get a little boring for some.
This is where we have to talk about the gameplay. Its a top down flying game with twin stick combat mechanics. But I’m afraid the twin stick aiming is done via a form of clock facing rotations rather than allowing you the full 360 degree rotation. This makes actually aiming your weapons a bit of a chore as you never feel truly in control of the situation. The flying is a little better as once you get used to the orientation, up turns the nose upwards on the map rather than left turns the nose left according to which way the plane faces, it’s quite enjoyable. Being unable to change your speed does remove a bit of control though so it’s not all gravy.
The real area where Airheart falls down is in its narrative. The folks at Blindflug Studios went a long way to setting up an interesting world with a lot of depth but the story beats just don’t happen. It isn’t paced in a way that rewards your progression with meaningful plot points. I was disappointed here because the world building was done so well and I really wanted to go on an adventure with Amelia but the game is mostly just farming resources and fumbling your way through the crafting. That being said I can’t take away from the fact that if you need to de-stress, flying around above Granaria and catching fish whilst listening to the wonderful Firefly-esque soundtrack is pretty great.
Good World building
Perma-Death adds tension
Controls aren't great
Gameplay can be repetitive
Narrative isn't supplied in volume