Air Twister certainly makes an impression coming out of the gate. It’s a weird children’s fever dream involving an alien invasion, floating sky cities, and a Princess that comforts a dying swan. It doesn’t get more comprehensible from there.
Having watched the initial trailer at some point years ago, I felt like Air Twister was a game I needed to experience. Unfortunately, it was released on Apple Arcade. I had let my trial subscription lapse on that service because I simply didn’t use it. I don’t play games on my phone. It’s for checking the comments on my articles and should otherwise be ignored.
Finally, it has arrived on consoles, which is where video games live.
Air Twister is the latest game from Yu Suzuki and YS Net. Yu Suzuki is a legendary designer behind a lot of well-loved games like Out Run, Shenmue, and Hang-On. That’s just a few. He’s had his fingers in all kinds of great-tasting pies. However, I’m only a fan of one of these pies, and that’s Out Run. Pretty much all the rest of them range from lukewarm to slight dislike.
I still respect the heck out of the guy. Beyond simply being a capable and influential director, designer, and producer, he’s had a lot of influence on video games as a whole. It’s obvious that he’s very passionate about making games, though he reportedly doesn’t really play them.
According to an interview with Gamespot, he’s hesitant to call Air Twister a spiritual successor to one of his most prominent works, 1985’s Space Harrier. So, I’ll do it instead.
Air Twister is a spiritual successor to Space Harrier.
It’s obvious, so I don’t know why he’s coy about it. To give a point of reference, I can only use Space Harrier. To make comparisons, there’s Space Harrier. The strategies you use in Space Harrier work here. There are even direct references to Space Harrier in the game itself. Even though Space Harrier is a game I’m lukewarm on (though I never played it with the original motion cabinet), I still don’t count its direct influence as a bad thing.
You play as swan-loving Princess Arch. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be pronounced like the structure or the shape. Apparently, she’s trying to save her planet, but it looks like multiple planets, or maybe they’re dimensional pockets. Invaders have come spilling out to wreck things. She’s the only competent person, so she’s got to save everybody.
It’s pretty bizarre. There are flying fish, Moai statues, and giant hostile clocks. To make it even stranger, there is lore to all of it. There’s even lore about Arch’s favorite dish.
If you’re unfamiliar with Space Harrier, it was an early rail shooter. For your quarters, you got to spend a lot of time looking at the protagonist’s butt. The levels were flat and straight, but they had a lot of interesting effects to them, and the game made use of the Super Scaler system to give a sense of depth as the sprites came toward you.
Air Twister is exactly like that, except the levels aren’t straight lines, and the protagonist has a much nicer and more prominently displayed butt. Also, there’s a lock-on system where you fly in front of an enemy and can build up strings of targets.
While the twisting levels add a nice touch to Space Harrier’s gameplay, and the fantasy environments are neat to take in, it really doesn’t change a whole lot. This is still a lot closer to Space Harrier than it is to, say, Star Fox. Very rarely can you make contact with objects in the environment, so the actual motion is rarely utilized for anything fun. I’m assuming this has a lot to do with its mobile origin, but it’s somewhat underwhelming.
The core game is a linear series of 12 levels and two bonus rounds. Each level is capped off with a boss battle, as is tradition. There’s a lot of variety in the boss battles, even if there isn’t in your standard enemies. Otherwise, the game itself is pretty routine.
However, that routine gameplay is supported by an intricate unlock system that serves as a sort of meta-progression. While playing the game, you gain stars which you can then spend to advance further in the unlock structures while gaining new weapons and cosmetics. If anything, this helps support the fact that Air Twister is a rather short game at its core. Having more than just a high score to chase is always a good thing. Getting to dress up Arch in various hairstyles and pants is rather satisfying.
However, that’s all there really is to say about it. I don’t feel that Air Twister is really a game that feels necessary to play multiple times. I finished the main story on maybe my third or fourth attempt, and then it just becomes something that you do to unlock more stuff. There are some challenges that remix the game’s mechanics, many of which you actually have to unlock.
Speaking of not holding up to repetition is the soundtrack. It’s done by Valensia, which Yu Suzuki is a fan of. Aside from the fact that the opening to the first song you hear is extremely evocative of Queen’s Bohemian Rapsody, I really don’t mind the sound. It’s a bit like the result of a torrid love affair between prog rock and a stage musical.
However, while it’s enjoyable on the first listen and fits the aesthetic pretty well, I’m not a fan of being repeatedly beaten over the head with the same tracks. It’s made worse by the fact that they’re lyrical songs, which means I wind up with short snippets of phrases stuck in my head. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable right now.
Air Twister is enjoyable enough. It’s weird and stimulating, as any arcade game should be. The problem is, much like Space Harrier, it’s let down by its simplicity. There’s some support from the upgrade meta-game and the added lore, but it’s really not enough to sustain the game for very long. Something like the branching pathways from Star Fox 64 would probably be beneficial to the longevity of the gameplay. That would at least add some variation to the story mode.
For that matter, the one thing from Air Twister that will probably still stick with me a month from now is the swan death, and that was shown in the first trailer.
Overall, Air Twister is a fine arcade title. It’s initially fun to play, and its trippy fantasy visuals do a decent job of drawing you in. However, once you’ve managed to topple the final boss and are treated to the end cutscene, there really isn’t much to keep you playing or cement the game in memory. The main story mode becomes just what you grind on to afford better butt dressings. I think the fallen swan deserved better.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]