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Luftrausers Review

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On 04/25/2014 at 12:00 PM by Matt Snee

Kill the skies.

For those that love old school arcade shooters and genuine classic game play with a modern bent.

The wonder of some indie games that go for that retro aesthetic is they kind of live up to our brain’s memories of what those old games were like, without the warts we seldom remember.  Sort of like a period film, it might not be like how things really were, but while catering to our modern tastes, a finer piece of art is sculpted, one that has learned the mistakes of the past.  Luftrausers is a game forged out of what once was – not only with its 8-bit aesthetic, but also with its satirical Nazi artwork.  Both of these themes work for and against it, but overall what we have here is a great game that is a commentary not only on the past, but on the future. 

At first, I was a bit put off by Luftrausers because I didn’t understand it.  But as I spent more time with it, I realized I had both played the game before, and was also experiencing something entirely new.  Sort of like a shmup, but also sort of not, it’s basically a 2-D aerial dogfighter where you have freedom of movement in a set, finite space (between sky and sea), where you’ll do battle against planes and naval vessels. 

Sepia toned and clad in a chiptune soundtrack, the game has an obvious look and feel like an old Game Boy game.  When I first ventured into its world, I worried it would also have a lot of that era’s drawbacks: merciless game play, limited goals, and repetitive life and death after repetitive life and death.   But despite the aesthetics, Luftrausers is quite modern, and is how I wish most arcade-like games actually were, rather than their usual, frustrating selves. 

Sure, you’re going to die a lot, but once you learn how to play, you can really keep your life going, and even when you do die, the game is engineered so you want to start again as quickly as possible, and makes it easy to do so.  Similar to arcade games of lore, Luftrausers is about as unbeatable as Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, though apparently one person on Gamefaqs has beaten it – but I don’t know what that means.  I reached my limit at about six hours of play, including a marathon of a couple hours that left my hand hurting like hell – but I didn’t want to stop. 

The goal is to score as many points as you can on your sorties, and the game uses a combo system that racks up the points if you keep annihilating enemies in succession.  By opening up new levels (by reaching scoring benchmarks) you are allowed access to upgrades to your ship.  This way you can get better armor, different weapons, and faster engines.  Most of these have advantages as well as drawbacks – the heavy armor makes you slower, the different weapons have recoil or slower recharge time – so you can pick or choose what you want, depending on your style.  Some of these upgrades are cool, others are a little useless, but they are all fun to unlock, and really change the game play up.

So you’ll do battle against other propeller planes and jets, sink battle ships, take out blimps – all worthy opponents for sure.  The game also rewards you for various achievements, like taking out three ships without being injured, or eliminating an enemy while your plane is on fire.  Simple goals like this make the game more interesting instead of being just a mindless arcade game, and give you more structure to play with.

I don’t believe I’ve ever really seen any other media represent the war in the Atlantic between the Germans and the Americans, and I don’t know a thing about it.  Mostly, movies and games focus on the war in the Pacific between the allies and the Japanese.  Of course, the game never mentions any of these nations, or the war itself, but you can tell from the cartoonish designs that the characters are supposed to be “German” or “Nazis”.  There is no real Nazi imagery such as swastikas, etc. but instead kind of a sarcastic caricature of German commanders (including a severe looking woman with an eye patch who dominates the stats screen). Is Luftrausers really in good taste?  That’s not for me to decide.  But I feel in relinquishing our fears of these things and poking fun at them, it helps us close the door on the past and move on into the future. 

Luftrausers is a great arcade game with cute aesthetics and tight control.  It’s also quite difficult and can be repetitive, depending on your tastes.  The game looks, sounds, and plays great, but it isn’t enormously deep, there is no story, and ultimately if you want to beat it you’re going to either have to use the Force or develop insane skillz.  But it’s also a very charming and inventive game, with a lot of the drawbacks of old school arcade games edited out.  If this sounds like your type of game, check it out.  If you are mildly interested, wait for a sale. 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




04/25/2014 at 12:15 PM

I have a love/hate relationship with these arcade-y games.  I love the fact that you can picke them up and put them down whenever and never lose a beat.  I hate that they never seem to hold my attention for long sessions.  

I have booted the game up a few times, but never spent more than 30 minutes with it in one sitting.  At the same time, that is exactly what I need every once in a while I guess. 

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/25/2014 at 12:30 PM

yeah i feel exactly the same way.  It's really fun, but it's not for long bouts of playing, and when I did play it long to finish the review, I hurt my hand.  Still, it's a neat game. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

04/30/2014 at 08:26 AM

Nice review Matt. I definitely get a GameBoy vibe for the screenshots of this game. I probably fit into the catagory of "mildly interested". I'll keep an eye for it should Sony have a special sale.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/30/2014 at 08:32 AM

yeah it's a cool game, but $10 might be a bit much for it.


04/30/2014 at 10:14 AM

I feel as though I am hitting the end of my time with the game.  I have enjoyed my time with it, but I am thinking that $10 was a little much.  I think that it would be far easier purchase even in the $6-8 range.  

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/30/2014 at 10:23 AM

I completely agree. 


04/30/2014 at 12:28 PM

I really hate to say it, but there a fair amount of aspects of the game that scream mobile.  The only problem is that there is no way you would be able to control the game if it were on a mobile platform.  

I am glad to support indie developers like Vlambeer, so I do not regret playing the full price.  It just becomes difficult to fully recommend the game when I think that the price-point might be a little higher than it should be.

Maybe I haven't spent enough time with the game. 

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/30/2014 at 12:53 PM

yeah you're absolutely right, it is a "mobile" game, but it would NOT work with a touch screen.  That's kind of why I think it works best on Vita, so you can play it portable or at home while you're watching tv or something. THe price point is too high, and I would have rated it higher if it was lower.  I imagine at some point it will be free on PSN or at least cheaper. 


05/04/2014 at 10:11 AM

So you can play it on Vita? Sounds like the best place for it.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/04/2014 at 07:40 PM

I think so. Laughing

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