I come from a time when it was enough for a video game to have an airplane flying in circles shooting other airplanes, helicopters, jets, and eventually spaceships. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, as gameplay is often overwritten with a story, upgrades, customizations, etc. Such is the way with Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings from Blindflug Studios. At its core, Airheart is a game in which you fly around collecting items and shooting down bad guys. Unfortunately, too many other elements get in the way for me to recommend this title to Switch gamers.
You play Airheart as a young, female pilot (see what they did there?) who obtains a job flyflishing in the skies of Granaria. Her goal is to honor the memory of her father by catching the legendary skywhale, but her skills and equipment are not nearly up to the task. Time to get playing.
Granaria is split into sky levels, and Amelia starts with basic equipment at the bottom level. The goal is to swoop around the skyscape (via a top-down view) to catch flying fish and crafting materials by moving over them. The fish can actually be a bit tricky to grab, but the twin-stick controls are basic enough to ease you into this. After you’ve caught enough fish, you can fly back to the hanger to sell it in order to buy parts to upgrade your airplane, and eventually buy new ones. The better your plane and equipment, the more likely you are to find success at the higher levels of Granaria where the true treasures lie.
Trouble is, the higher you go, the thicker the air becomes with sky pirates. Now, you’re not just fishing, but you’re also defending your airplane. The twin-stick approach to Airheart means that you’ll be steering with the left stick and choosing your firing direction with the right. I have no problem with this approach when the only objective is to kill enemies, but it can get confusing when you’re also trying to hunt down fish and avoid the many obstacles in the sky.
You will be able to upgrade your weapons, of course, but one unique item throughout is the harpoon gun. This isn’t actually used for fishing so much as a way to remove shields from enemy ships, access certain areas, capture and drag smaller planes, etc. It’s an interesting mechanic, but a bit clumsy to wield.
When you’ve caught enough fish or sustained too much damage, you’ll have to head back to your hangar by diving through each layer you’ve ascended in order to sell and/or repair.
If your ship should be destroyed while fishing or on the dive back, it’s gameover in the most roguelike of fashions (there are easier settings that are more forgiving). You then have to start at level one when you’re ready to head back out, using each level’s portal to get higher up. I suppose this makes grinding less of a chore if you’re forced to grind in or to get back to where you were, but that doesn’t prevent it from becoming annoying.
I was also annoyed by the crafting system, which never really made much sense to me. The button mapping to move around is counter-intuitive, and the game does little to help you figure out which items to combine for the best upgrades. You’d think an airplane mechanic would like to go off some sort of manual, but that’s not the case here. Just slap some things together and hope they work.
These unique touches help to distinguish Airheart from other twin-stick arcade shooters, but I wish I could’ve focused more—or even solely—on the arcade action. The higher levels present some unique and clever challenges, providing an incentive to spend the time required to get there. It helps that the graphics are colorful and pleasantly detailed as you zip around the sky, and the music sets the mood with some soaring cues. As such, having to abandon them to return to the hangar and play with pieces/parts was a drag (that one was for all the pilots out there).
Review: Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings (Nintendo Switch)
There’s certainly some roguelike fun to be had in Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings, especially for fans of twin-stick shooters and classic arcade action. Unfortunately, the elements outside of skyfishing and dogfighting are more of an interference than an enhancement, and they may put you off this game before you’re able to get to the good stuff.