I’ll get you, Red Baron!
A common game design trope in previous years involved adding RPG elements such as level building to games where they wouldn’t traditionally. Today, these usually take the form of roguelike elements: random generation of enemies, level building, and big death penalties. Rogue Aces adds some of these elements to a 2D side-scrolling shooter, and the combination ends up working quite well.
Rogue Aces takes place in what is clearly a fanciful version of World War II. The player character can be either male or female even though they share the same experience bar, while the commanding officer is most definitely British. You fly a plane clearly designed after the Spitfire, the Royal Air Force’s chief plane in WWII. Each run can last for potentially 100 missions, with objectives like taking out bombers or radar facilities as well as shooting down bosses every 20 missions or so. The game has no fourth wall, with the CO applauding “randomly generated mayhem” in one of his intro lines.
The runs have three lives to start and losing all three ends the run, but being captured by the enemy forces or failing to deploy a parachute at the appropriate time will finish you no matter how many planes remain. Between missions, the plane can be flown back to base for repairs and restocks of missiles and bombs. It’s randomly generated, but usually quite forgiving. Power-ups can be picked up along the way, and as the pilots build levels they can start the sortie with some equipped, but their power curve is based on the hockey stick. Early in the run, the power-ups won’t have much of an effect, but the more of each power-up I found the better they performed.
A multitude of control options are available to play with, and the sets can be modified heavily. I personally was fine with the default controls, but I did take advantage of the opportunity to swap the bomb and missile buttons. After a couple of runs, I had the game figured out to the point that I went on multiple-hour-long sessions. The game looks nice, and there’s no risk of friendly fire, but the music didn’t stand out that much and the yelling of the game’s title at every restart is a bit much.
If roguelike elements are continuing to be the hot independent gaming trend, I’ll tend toward games that make the process more fun. Rogue Aces does a fine job of balancing randomness and giving agency over the flights, and it definitely doesn’t deserve to be buried by the wave of eShop releases every week.