Video Game Rentals Delivered

Aces of the Galaxy (XBLA)

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-06-13 00:08:39

Aces of the Galaxy (XBLA) - Rank C

Developer: Artech Studios
Publisher: Sierra Online
Date: 6/4/08

Also available for PC

Aces of the Galaxy is a good fit for Xbox Live Arcade, because its design is that of an unabashed, old school arcade shooter. The only distinguishing feature to differentiate it from titles like 1944: The Loopmaster and Battle Garegga is that graphics technology has advanced greatly, allowing Aces to provide a view from behind the ship pressing forward in 3-D space. You'd think that shift would result in a massive change in gameplay, but the feel remains largely unchanged.

Aces is a total twitch-fest, with hordes of enemy ships and tracers rapidly whirling around the screen. In a massively old school design choice, you're forced to continually mash the A button in order to fire your primary chain gun. It will test your thumb endurance. You also have homing cluster missiles and heavy torpedoes, but these weapons are more situational, as they take a bit of time to reload. They comfortably fit the role of traditional "option" fire from those 2-D arcade ancestors.

Other retro design elements include a chain scoring system (the goal is not only to survive, but to survive well for the leaderboards), and the lack of continues, saves, or level selection. You're forced to play through from beginning to end on one "quarter". Aces also sports a Darius-style branching mission structure, adding some replayability and variety. Aces would be an extremely short game, and thus bad value, if it wasn't prolonged by these design choices.

Oddly, the boss fights are a complete let down. I'm used to showdowns against multi-stage screen-filling monstrosities in these sort of games, but Aces' levels end with anticlimactic brush offs. Arcade shooters also sported wicked slowdown when the screen got too saturated with enemy fire, which was of immense help in navigating the bullet mazes. Aces goes one better with a "bullet time" type ability, which slows the frantic action to a manageable crawl.

The visuals and audio are outstanding for an XBLA game, providing an exciting, if occasionally overly dazzling light show. All of these elements come together in an impressive presentation. Anyone who follows my Retro Arcade column knows I'm a genuine enthusiast of the genre, and I was fully prepared to embrace Aces of the Galaxy as a welcome update to a bygone era.

Unfortunately, Aces is subpar in the most critical aspect: the controls. They're overly twitchy, resulting in an inability to execute precise movements. Also, all of that visual eye candy -the tons of objects and glowing effects- serves to obscure the view of your ship and makes it difficult to see what's happening. The game is so fast (which is good) that these hindrances make luck something of a factor (which is bad). Aces of the Galaxy has a lot of positive elements going for it, but the subpar controls keep me from recommending it. Tight, precise controls are essential to these games; you should never die unless it's your fault.

If you're looking for an XBLA shooter, I'd recommend snagging Ikaruga or Rez HD instead. Or if you're hungry for a fleshed out 3-D shooter, track down a copy of the original Xbox game, Panzer Dragoon ORTA. It essentially does everything Aces of the Galaxy does, only better, and is backward compatible on the Xbox 360.

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