I’m normally an easy mark for an arcade shooter, or “shmup” as some folks like to call them. Give me a horizontally or vertically scrolling background, a ship or plane of some kind, and hordes of enemies to blow up, and I’ll happily give you hours of my time.
Both the Android and iOS platforms are full of this style of game, featuring original entries and classic arcade ports. Many of the newer titles crafted for mobile play improve the core mechanics with skill trees, endless piles of levels, responsive touch input, and a variety of characters to unlock.
Aces of the Luftwaffe is one such attempt at a progression-infused shmup, developed by Handy Games. It currently sells for $3 dollars on iOS, and has a respectable handful of vertical scrolling stages. Although it takes a little grinding to get to the end (or an infusion of additional real cash), its fun controls and unlocks make it one of many “okay” choices in the portable arcade shooter space.
The game was created with Game Maker Studio, an affordable package that just about anyone can learn to use, but its colorful visuals look fine on a phone screen. Unfortunately, Game Maker Studio also has a “compile for PS4” button, and Handy Games didn’t do much more than click that button when bringing the game to Sony’s console.
In fact, through their complacency, they somehow made the game much worse, and then had the audacity to charge more for it.
Aces of the Luftwaffe costs $5 on the PS4 , and it was first released in 2015. If you have a PS Now subscription, you can subject yourself to it for free. It no longer has micro-transactions, which is good…in theory. Unfortunately, rather than re-balance the grind around the fact that you can no longer buy in-game currency, the speed of play is only minimally tweaked. Be prepared to replay the included stages over and over again to upgrade the different planes and see all of the content. I doubt you’ll have the patience to finish it once you feel how it plays.
Rather than keep the vertical playfield that the entire game and all of the visuals were designed around, the developers decided to rotate the game horizontally for the PS4 edition. All of the background art is now sideways and not properly perspective- correct, and it’s tremendously obvious that you’re playing a vertical game simply rotated to fit your TV.
The controls are abysmal and made me want to quit the game almost immediately. They’re slow and unsatisfying, and feel like badly- translated touch controls, which is exactly what they are. The included controls screen doesn’t even point out that using the right stick gives you precise aim, and using the left stick or d-pad gives you fast movement. Like the mobile version, and unlike most shmups on console, you don’t have to press a fire button. Instead, your ship auto fires at a very low speed…one of many things you’ll have to grind against for an hour or two to upgrade.
Control precision and visual flair are two of the most important aspects of a scrolling arcade shooter, and Luftwaffe’s PS4 edition gets them both wrong. The sound doesn’t fare much better, with just a couple of repeating tracks and basic sound effects. The UI is recycled from the mobile version as well, with big large buttons to click on.
This is one of the most basic, lazy, unsatisfying ports of a mobile game I’ve ever played. Similar to the last game I featured in this series, Brick Breaker, this game could have used a lot more care and attention.
Normally, this is where I’d recommend one of many other great shmups from a different company you could play instead of this one, like Sky Force Anniversary. But this story does have a miraculous silver lining. Handy Games learned from their mistakes, and in 2018 released the similarly-titled Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron. This newer game features a proper widescreen presentation, better visuals, better controls, and much more content. It’s still a premium-priced upgrade of a mobile game, sure…but at least some real work went into it and as a result it’s a much better fit for a home console.
Squadron is such a dramatic improvement that it might almost be worth it for the company to de-list the older game, just so that people don’t stumble upon it instead of the newer version when looking for a fun arcade game to play. I know that it’s not great when a digital game disappears forever, but this more-expensive rotated hastily-produced mobile port is one title the PS4 library wouldn’t miss.