Aeroblasters - Hudson


Hardcore shmup fans looking for a test of pure, unadulterated skill won't be disappointed in the least.

Reviewed by Bryan Cord of the Nintendo Review Archive

One of my favorite video-game-related platitudes is that "the shmup is only as good as its weapon system". Generally speaking, I'm (most other people probably are too) likely to have a heck of a lot more fun with a shooter that gives the player plenty of fiendish ways to splatter large numbers of attacking aliens (Super Aleste and Zanac being two prominent examples), rather than one where that standard straight-firing vulcan is all you've got. Aero Blasters (also seen on the Genny as Air Buster, I believe...doubt it looks quite as good though) is a bit of an oddity as far as this rule is concerned though; while there ARE secondary weapons (about ten of them, if I'm not mistaken), none of them is particularly useful, and nine-tenths of the time it's just your little plane's main cannon that stands between life and flaming wreckage.

Nonetheless, Aero Blasters continues to be my fix of choice among the TG's vast shmup library, outdoing notable contenders like Salamander, R-Type 2, and Gunhed in the process. Why, you ask? Well it's simple, really. Exemplary graphics and such aside, Aero Blasters is a rarity in the shmup world, in that it emphasizes pure technique and reflexes over simply grabbing scads of power-ups and roasting everything in your path (Radiant Silvergun also seems to do this) and still manages to be quite fun (to be fair, the anemic Heavy Unit also works on this principle) in the process. A far cry from the Compile school of shooters, certainly, but this unique approach to the genre is particularly well-executed here, at least for awhile.

I'm sure there's some sort of perfunctory storyline in the instructions someplace, but all I've got is the ROM image (heretical, I know, but TGs seem to be hard to come by here in Delaware), so I really couldn't say for sure. All I know is that you can choose between Blaster #1 (a badass-looking red and black fighter jet that you wouldn't want to encounter in an alley after midnight), or Blaster #2 (a somewhat less badass-looking yellow jet that would probably get beaten up for its lunch money if jet planes went to elementary school) from the title screen, both of which play identically aside from the cosmetic differences. If you're not the antisocial type, you and a friend can each grab a jet and take on the evil hordes (either Marxist reformers or aliens, I think, but who knows?) together a la Salamander.

In any case, things start off over a nice little seaside city (*snicker*), eventually moving on to a nasty cave, a climb into Earth's orbit, deep space, a space station, and other levels that I've yet to see because I just plain rot at the game (and because of factors mentioned later in the review). The look is vaguely reminiscent of Capcom's U.N. Squadron, but the enemies trend more toward the "Macross" end of things; big mechs, little mechs, bulbous aircraft, and impossibly huge "boss" ships abound. Everything looks quite nice (even for the TG, known for its nice-looking shmups); enemies, backgrounds, and your ship alike use a bright, well-defined color scheme to achieve that neat "anime" look not often seen outside Capcom's later fighting games these days. Unfortunately, the sound is less inspired, but it doesn't actively grate and the music has its moments of brilliance (stage 4), so think twice before you go muting it.

Aside from one critical flaw (which I'll get to), Aero Blasters plays (lack of superweapons be damned) nigh-on perfectly. Control is flawless (for the first few stages..coming to that in a minute though), and the scroll speed ranges from "pretty fast" to "mild nausea" without ever a touch of slowdown, hail of bullets or no hail of bullets. Pick-uppable weapons aside (they really aren't worth detailing, though it should be noted that the blue "M" power-up [homing missile] is probably the best of the bunch to grab), your ship's stuck with an upgradable (grab the "P" icons in the flying power-up cans) forward-firing vulcan cannon and unlimited use of a smart bomb that's really only good against the weakest of enemies (it does clear the screen of most projectiles though) and takes a bit of time to recharge between blasts. As you'd expect, such a setup is wholly inadequate to counter the numbing onslaught of the alien/Commie fleet, but therein lies Aero Blasters' charm. From the get-go, bullets are flying all over the place; while this can be alleviated somewhat with the smart bomb, very precise dodging is still necessary if you plan on surviving very long at all (single-hit deaths, three lives, five continues, and absolutely no extras are all you've got - as in real life, try not to die unless it becomes absolutely necessary). Additionally, most of your bigger enemies (bosses especially) can both dish out and take quite a beating, and the straightforward (pun intended) nature of your plane's main cannon will usually make it necessary to place yourself in the line of fire to do more than infinitesimal damage; again, it's all about technique and coordination, not grabbing six Power Beams and atomizing boss after boss after boss (though don't get me wrong- there's a time and a place that too. After chemistry exams, for instance...).

If Aero Blasters kept up the formula established in stages 1-3, it would be perfection embodied; tragically though, such is not the case. From stage 4 on (4 and 5 anyway..maybe it isn't true in later stages), the control goes inexplicably soggy (a la Tyrian or Stargunner on the PC), apparently to simulate the vacuum of space or somesuch. Unfortunately, all it really manages to do is seriously crimp the mirth; just when the whole projectile issue becomes truly intense, your ship is stripped of its ability to maneuver well. It doesn't render the game unplayable (far from it; I actually thought the effect was a nice touch the first time through), but not being able to properly negotiate a hail of bullets just because the game's trying for cheap "realism" is quite frustrating, to say the least. Aside from that small point, and the fact that this entire take on shmups is a bit of an acquired taste in itself, Aero Blasters is one heck of a game; good-looking, fast-moving, and for the most part quite intense. Though those weaned on the likes of Super Aleste (yes, I KNOW I keep mentioning Super Aleste. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more weapon-centric shmup though...) may not immediately enjoy it (or do very well at's a bit of a gear-shift technique-wise), hardcore shmup fans looking for a test of pure, unadulterated skill won't be disappointed in the least (until they hit stage 4, at any rate).


Nice little land mission here, full of easily-killable enemies. Here we see a somewhat-powered-up Blaster #1 battling some pretty (but ultimately somewhat stupid) gunships.
Though a bit of a jerk, this boss undeniably knows how to make an entrance.
He can level a pretty good-sized city (see background), but the stage 1 boss is, inexplicably, quite a pushover in single combat. Just wait til he stops firing lasers and zap him just under the moving bit.
Stage 2. Starts out pretty conventional...only that big sled-looking thing with the laser poses any threat at all initially. Put a few dozen rounds into his windshield and move on.
That wouldn't be any fun though, now would it? Here things kick into some ultrafast corridor scrolling (a la the "blue level" in Gradius III, but much faster) with a fleet of blue critters in hot pursuit.

Don't miss the "B" power-up just before the speed picks up (that's what those things by my plane's nose are...they keep it from hitting walls somewhat) and take out the enemies with a smart bomb if they start getting a bit too familiar.
Out of the tunnels and into...more tunnels! Actually just a long, slow bit, but don't relax- those gun turrets lining the floor and ceiling will make scrap metal of you if you do.

General strategy here is to keep a smart bomb charged up, dodge bullets as well as possible, and release the bomb if one's about to hit. Alternately, those homing missiles you could've snagged at the beginning work wonders...if you can keep them...
*Sigh*...grueling, wasn't it? And it ain't over by a longshot, 's yet ANOTHER fast twisty part, only longer and more tortuous this time. Grab that "B" or you're history...
Mercifully (you've probably died at least twice by now), the boss is nice and easy. Zap him in the middle (it helps to have your vulcans fully powered-up as I do here, but a level 1 cannon will do just fine) and don't let the green missiles get too close. On to stage three...
Grammar be damned! On to stage three!
The background scrolls by sort of diagonally here, simulating your plane's ascent into space, no doubt.

These red things are the worst of the lot you'll encounter here, firing five-shot spreads out their tailpipes and all. Stay calm and try to kill them off quickly.
Finally made it into orbit. Bit of deja vu here, wouldn't you say?
Once you knock his outer shell off, this boss reminds me somewhat of the ship from Axelay.

Watch those fast red homing lasers (move around a lot) and try to get in his face and shoot him several hundred times. Easy when you know how, murder if you don't.
"Out of Sense" would be slightly more accurate. What made them decide to ruin the play control of this otherwise great shmup here?
If you think this looks hairy, try it when your space-age fighter jet steers like a bathtub! (That debris floating around will kill you, by the way).
Big mech boss, vaguely reminiscent of the Energy Zone boss from Contra. Stay alert, as he's got about five different attack methods.

It mightn't be a bad idea to have an auxilary weapon that fires behind you either, as he occasionally throws things from back there. Not too tough once you get his rhythm down, but that last part probably left you short on lives if you're anything like me...
This level fast-scrolls past what looks like a big space-station. Unfortunately, the control is still shot to hell, so avoiding all those little mines and such is quite a bit harder than it looks.
This is the guy that ends 90% of my games, though he isn't even a boss. Avoiding his shots is near-impossible due to the buggered controls, and he can take punishment with the best of 'em.

I've never gotten very far past here (jings, I've never even BEEN here! - malc), but it's my hope that this stage's downward scrolling means things'll eventually end up back on some planetary body (with all associated physics, of course).


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie