Aperion Cyberstorm is a twin-stick shooter that wouldn’t seem out of place inside an 80s-style arcade table. Originally planned to release in 2015 for the Wii U, British developer aPriori Digital decided to delay the game’s initial release date and launch it on the Nintendo Switch. However, Nintendo’s last-gen console has not been left out on this occasion, meaning that those who haven’t yet taken the plunge on the portable home console can at least have this retro arcade shooter to look forward to.
You play as Kate Rhodes, isolated on an alien wasteland who one day answers a distress signal from one of her ex-comrades that abandoned her two years earlier. Kate uses this opportunity and sets out looking for answers as to why her teammates ditched her, which is more than enough reason to murder thousands of hostile ships in the process.
There are three main modes to work through in Aperion Cyberstorm. You have the main Campaign in which you find out why Kate is a Billy no mates, along with a Versus Mode and a survival option called Onslaught. Up to five players can play at once regardless of which game mode you pick, making it a flexible little gunner to get some friends involved.
The Campaign mode is where you will be persuaded to venture first though, as it is here that you will find weapons, upgrades, new ships and extra multiplayer maps. Each segment of the story takes place across a sprawling map that’s split into smaller rooms that lock you in for battle. It’s all very linear with a few nooks and crannies to explore for some unlockable content to take advantage of.
More often than not, you are faced with swarms of enemies that you must obliterate to open the gate to the next section. Along with your standard blaster, you can equip two secondary weapons that have a brief activation time followed by a cooldown period. You also have the ability to dash through enemies supplying a few frames of invincibility to allow yourself some breathing space amongst the chaos. This sounds all well and good, and to actually see the madness unfold on screen looks to be a fun chaotic affair. The unfortunate reality is that it never feels quite as hype as it implies.
Your ship can take a bit of a beating which does make sense considering the number of enemies and shrapnel that litters the screen. There are so many things out to kill you, it is almost impossible to come away from any battle completely unscathed. However, I never actually felt like I was in danger most of the time and when I would finally perish I found it hard to even care. I would be more disgruntled by the fact that I had to do the whole ordeal again, only to travel to the next room to face another messy wave.
The developer does make an effort to change things up from time to time in Aperion Cyberstorm, like throwing in a beacon that you have to defend from waves of enemies or eliminating every foe under a time limit. There are even boss-like encounters at the end of each segment that usually employ cannons alongside even more waves of baddies for you to gun down. There are a few moments where you have to activate the odd switch to press on, but the manic formula that it all relies on seems to fall flat very quickly.
It may be due to how intimately boxed in you are with your foes, as you soon realise that swanning around in circles with a slight dodge here and there is the best form of attack. While you can upgrade each secondary weapon to extend its usability, they never really feel like they are active long enough. This is a shame as the game feels at its best when firing off the library of weapons to choose from.
While I am being a bit harsh on Aperion Cyberstorm what it does right, it does rather well. The controls to navigate your ship are satisfyingly sharp and the music suits the experience incredibly well to the point that I found the tracks difficult to shake from my head. The way that certain enemies would split into smaller threats was a nice touch along with little assist bots that would try to recharge your enemy shields – only for them to charge yours when you have cleared out the room. I do like how aPriori Digital have tried to cater for every angle to provide both a solo and local experience, it’s just a shame that I, and those who I shared it with, never really found it particularly fun to play.
The multiplayer component is rich with modes and customisation options to sink your teeth into. Along with your standard timed and survival deathmatch options, you have modes like occupying a circle (aka King) or to shoot the little blue thing the most (Battle Ball). There’s even an ARMS-style Hedlok Scramble mode in which you possess a titan ship until one of your opponents blasts it off you. However, playing it with one opponent is a bit boring and playing it with any more players becomes utter chaos. It’s easy to lose yourself in the noise and the arenas are so tight that you end up just circling around each other again, like a dog chasing its tail until it falls down.
I genuinely think that it results from the lack of space that you fight in, and how tight the control system is. Astro Duel Deluxe was a game that kept popping into my head when facing off with some friends. Its wider space and clumsy control system provided a multiplayer charm that just feels absent here. Except while Astro Duel Deluxe was fairly bare bones, Aperion Cyberstorm is filled with content to the brim.
As potentially fun as it can be to rack up a high score in Onslaught mode, the fact that you can’t seem to change the difficulty beforehand makes working through the first several waves a massive chore. It just takes too long until the waves start to become a threat, putting me off wanting to best my last attempt. There’s also no online leaderboard to test yourself against, or nosey on other players efforts. It’s potentially the predominant option available here to make the most out of its coin-op style formula. So, the absence of having the craving to conquer your best ability makes it seem a bit of a damp squib.
Visually, Aperion Cyberstorm looks ok at best. Its Tron-like art style gives it an 80s LCD flavour and the colour that rides the rim of the wireframe ships are pleasant to the eye. It is a very dark game, which is probably aiming to drive the neon out of the space crafts in an effort to make it look more retro. However, its contrast can interfere with the gameplay a bit and solid objects in the middle of the map can be hard to make out. On the whole, it does provide a strong old school feel of the late 70s arcade scene.
Aperion Cyberstorm is a game that I really wished would work. It manages to tick the right boxes with its tight controls, bullet hell madness, plenty of weapon upgrades, and screens full of enemies to destroy. However, as we approach the Nintendo Switch’s first birthday we have had an army of similar arcade-style games hitting the Nintendo eShop, and some of which are, quite frankly, much better than what you get here and sit in a similar price range. While there is a lot of content to play around with here, there’s a certain magic that just doesn’t seem to be present on this occasion.