Three planes, one pilot, a fleet full of enemies, and a Captain who’s happy enough to claim your fancy watch in the highly probable event of your demise. This is Rogue Aces, a rogue-lite arcade, aerial shooter that’s easily the most addictive dogfight you can have on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch for under a tenner.
From publisher Curve Digital and UK developer Infinite State Games, Rogue Aces sends you on a suicide mission to take out the enemy forces that oppose you from land, sea, and air. You control a World War 2-style fighter jet, twisting and turning through the open air whilst nailing anything and everything that stands as a threat.
Each level is procedurally generated across 100 possible landscapes with plenty of unlockable modes to soar across. When you first take to the skies, getting to grips with your piloting skills does take some getting used to. Expect your first half hour to result in nose-diving into bases, crashing into seas, and landing face first with the elegance of a three-legged rhino trying to do the triple-jump. However, this is where the genius of a simple, yet satisfying concept first rears its head as you will soon begin to find your wings like a Red Arrows Pilot.
The controls themselves are easy enough to understand. Leaning the Left Stick towards the desired direction will navigate your jet freely around the sky. There is no lateral turn to be seen here, so expect to roll back over or under yourself with a vertical loop at a fairly wide circumference. That is, before you obtain any special perks at least. Your right trigger fires off your primary weapon and the left trigger gives you a speed boost at the cost of some fuel. The face buttons are set for the usual missiles and bombs drops, while a double tap of the A Button can eject the pilot from the aircraft along with a final thumb press to deploy your parachute.
Remembering to open your parachute when your plane is in flames is important if you want to stay in the game. The three jets at your disposal in the main campaign do work as lives, but, if your pilot dies, they stand as nothing more than giant paperweights sitting on a floating aircraft carrier. You do, however, have the possibility to hijack other planes mid-air by ejecting from your seat into an enemies cockpit. It’s a great feeling if you time it right, keeping you in the fight longer than you deserve to be.
The trickiest thing to get to grips with at first is managing the throttle with the Right Stick. Reducing the throttle ready for landing is a skill on its own, but successfully grounding your aircraft will replenish your bombs and fix any damage caused in battle. You do have the option to auto-land your vessel with the same payoff, although relying on this method will result in a score penalty every time you resort to it.
Once you begin to develop you aviation skills there’s a moreish taste to that fast and frantic gameplay. Objectives that you will seem to struggle with at first becomes child’s play as you wreck havoc like Ace Rimmer making it back in time for breakfast. What pilots the fun even further is by how powerful you can get the longer you stay alive. Turning becomes much sharper, gunfire becomes much faster, and your overall skills will increase to the point that you will shamefully reflect back to when you were a mere rookie. Mix all that with an ever-changing level layout and you have the perfect recipe for a class A addiction.
As far as modes go, there is a lot hidden away to unlock the more that you progress. After a brief tutorial, you begin with the main campaign mode to familiarise yourself with the mechanics. Here you complete a set of orders given to you by your Captain and see how far you can go with your three aerial lifelines. You are able to beat some objectives before they are even called out to you, and you can spend some time hunting for upgrades. It’s the default mode that you will head to when firing up the game and will automatically save your progress if you are on a roll – which works particularly well for a quick fix when you only have a short time to kill.
The Frontline Campaign sees you choosing a path towards the enemies main base on a gridded map of 34 islands. You have a set amount of in-game days to reach the end destination before all your progress is wiped clean. Dying in battle will take extra hours off your time which can cost you dearly when nearing the end of your run. I found it a great little mode to play through and really liked how the lead enemy pilot stalks my position on the map like one of those pesky Hammer Bros. from Super Mario Bros. 3.
Once the enemy does hit the same location, the environment looms with a stormy dawn as the opposing top dog pilot reins down on you with a hail of firepower. In this particular mode, you have no need to refuel your tank but the tradeoff is that you only have one aircraft to work with. Each island has a number of set objectives to complete in order to conquer them, and any power-ups that you gain from downing enemy planes will carry over with you until the end.
Furthermore, you have a list of extra arcade modes to blast through including a survival mode, where you try to last as long as you can in an endless dogfight. There’s a lot of content to be had here that you really have to dig into in order to unlock it all. It’s a great looking game too, with plenty of attention to little details, like how the plane blacks out as it soars across the light of the setting sun, or the day and night cycle that creeps in the background. Two other minor details I would love to have seen would be an online scoreboard and a statistics page that logs in your overall records, not just your rounds. It’s a feature that the game does feel like it’s missing out on, and I would love to see it added in a future update.
Rogue Aces is an excellent little game that works incredibly well however way you play it. The quick, convenient menu system ensures you snap right back into the action for some sweet on the go gaming. I would love to see a split-screen multiplayer added at some point as it’s clearly begging for it, but as a solid, satisfying solo-focused shooter that’s only 123MB in size, it is a Nintendo Switch necessity that will barely make a dent in your storage.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Curve Digital