Aces of the Galaxy Review (Xbox360)

Star Fox was one of Nintendo’s groundbreaking franchises on the SNES, and its success continued on the N64. Many fans will tell you, though, that Star Fox is nothing more than a shell of its former self after the repetition of Star Fox Adventures, the superfluous ground combat of Star Fox Assault, and the emo story of Star Fox Command. In the mean time, no game that has attempted to emulate the gameplay of Star Fox has come close to matching its quality. That is, until Aces of the Galaxy.

Aces of the Galaxy comes from Artech Studios, a developer whose efforts extend back to the Commodore 64, but have mainly revolved around childrens games and adaptations of board games in recent years; brilliance is often borne out of frustration. Players take control of a human pilot that has stolen the Omega prototype spacecraft from a race of creatures called the Skurgians. You need to get the ship back to Earth, but the Skurgians are hot on your tail, obviously rather upset at the theft of their new weapon.

In space, nobody can read these awful captions.
Glorg was warned about mixing pop rocks and soda.

Wheel reinvention is not the purpose of Aces of the Galaxy; it is a straightforward, on-rails blaster that seeks to impress through offering nothing but ball-busting action from the moment you press the start button. The action is fast and furious; waves of enemies pour in from all directions at blinding speed and you’ve got to avoid their attacks and return fire with your assorted weaponry. Thankfully, your ship is quick off the mark and capable of all sorts of fancy techniques, including the all-important barrel roll. There’s also the slightly unconventional temporal distortion technique, which allows the pilot to slow down time in order to escape close attacks or inflict additional damage.

The Omega prototype has a number of weapons which pack a great punch. Your main weapon is the chaingun – not the strongest of offensive forces, but it has enough power to take out the lion’s share of your foes in a few shots. Lock on missiles are the medium powered weapon of choice, allowing the player to target up to four foes and unleash a barrage of projectiles unto them. Finally, the torpedoes are your most destructive weapon. They’re slow, but more than powerful enough to take out larger foes with the main impact, and the majority of smaller enemies with splash damage. Each weapon can be fired independently, which is especially handy in the harder difficulty modes when players need destructive power. Weapons can be upgraded twice, but players can only have one upgraded weapon at a time – picking up a new upgrade will wipe out the old one.

Asteroids are not covered by our insurance.
A mine-r inconvenience (sorry!)

Enemies come thick and fast in Aces of the Galaxies. They tend to appear in packs of the same ship type, ranging from your agile cannon fodder type to your large capital ships which can give it as good as they can take it. New enemies are added with each level, obviously becoming more threatening with each passing stage. Perhaps the biggest letdown in the game is the complete lack of bosses; the closest thing you get is a named enemy who makes a threat at the start of the level. Taking this enemy out gives you a bonus at the end of the level, but it’s a far cry from the challenge and excitement that could have been offered by a couple of big, bad boss battles.

It takes 9 levels for players to get the Omega prototype back to earth, and as you’d expect, the action heats up and enemies get tougher with each passing stage. Like Star Fox 64, Aces of the Galaxy has branching missions, providing up to 25 different stages to blast your way through. Gaining full completion of the game requires players to amass five star ratings on each of the 25 levels, and if that’s not enough game for you, there’s also the option to join forces with a friend, either locally or over Xbox Live.

Drinking, flying and shooting seemed like a good idea at the time.
The “Flying V” might have worked for the Mighty Ducks, but these poor Skurgians are out of luck.

Aces of the Galaxy is easily one of the best looking games on Xbox Live Arcade. The visuals are very slick; the ships are well modelled, the explosions are lovely and the game runs very smoothly. The environments are the highlight, with wonderous star fields playing host to pretty planets alongside the relics of war; scuttled capital ships, broken asteroids and battles going on between human and Skurgian forces. A dramatic soundtrack works wonders providing background atmosphere, while devastating weapon and explosion effects do well to please the aural senses.

Ultimately, Aces of the Galaxy represents the type of game we need to see more of on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s lovely to look at, an absolute blast to play, and it’s only 800 points. The only downside to the game is a lack of bosses – but looking beyond that, Aces of the Galaxy is a frontrunner for best downloadable game of the year.

Top Game Moment: Finally surviving the seventh level (with little more than a sliver of health left), and going on to beat the game undefeated.