Speedrunning: The Game
If you’re the kind of gamer who goes bananas for speed running, have I got the game for you. Aeon Drive is a fast-paced platformer where your primary goal is to get from the start of every short stage to the end in the fastest possible time. This is different from something like Super Meat Boy or Celeste, where precision is the most important factor—not necessarily speed. Aeon Drive takes the opposite tack—while precision platforming does come into play, you're trying to plow through each of the game’s 100 stages in about 30 seconds, give or take.
The threadbare story sees our heroine, Jackelyne (usually shortened to “Jack,” which I found distracting) crashing her spaceship into the futuristic city of Neo Barcelona and racing through stages in an effort to find energy cores for her busted ship. For reasons I was never clear on, she only has 30 seconds per stage to do this or else her ship’s AI will Groundhog Day her back to the start of the stage. Thankfully, each stage is littered with little batteries to pick up and collecting five will let Jackie add five precious seconds to the timer.
Any platformer that deals with speed running must have rock-solid controls, and I’m pleased to say that Aeon Dive largely meets that demand. Running, jumping, sliding, and attacking all feel great, but it’s Jackie’s teleportation ability that gives this game a little extra oomph. She’s equipped with a knife-like object that can be thrown and stuck to platforms in any direction, then a quick tap of the A button will teleport Jackie to the knife’s location. This allows her to bypass various deadly obstacles, find bonus items, and just plain move through each stage quicker. I found that teleporting correctly has something of a learning curve—you’ll quickly be asked to throw the knife very accurately in between spiked floors or through narrow shafts. Once it clicked, I was fine, but it probably took the majority of the first ten stages before I really felt comfortable with this mechanic.
Jackie will also get sent back to the beginning if she’s hit by an enemy or environmental hazard, which means that getting certain bonus items becomes an exercise in tedium, which I did not enjoy. Most stages have at least one bonus item to find and grab (gems, hot dogs), but they're entirely optional and usually off the beaten path. This is not typically the kind of game I enjoy; Mighty Switch Force (and its sequel) is the singular exception. I did, however, find myself enjoying Aeon Drive once I suppressed my urge to get 100% completion. I’m sure there are people who will enjoy clambering all over each stage, but I’m just not that guy. Thankfully, once I quelled that part of myself, the game went by rather quickly.
I would not call myself a fan of game’s aesthetic. Different levels are essentially palette swaps of the same city environment. Granted, the backgrounds will change every couple zones, but the foreground elements are basically the same. You can choose different color schemes for Jack but I wasn’t particularly drawn to any of them. Her run animation appears to be missing a couple of crucial frames. The musical score is peppy, though, with some toe-tapping tracks that kept me going. Each different level (zone) includes at least one new wrinkle, like moving platforms, jump pads, or breakable walls, but for the most part you’ll be doing the same thing throughout. While this does mean you can finish Aeon Drive in 1-2 hours, it also means that it becomes somewhat rote by the end.
It does have a multiplayer option and online leaderboards for each stage, so if competitive speed running is your thing, Aeon Drive delivers. For me, it’s an interesting curio that I’m glad I played, but won’t be returning to often.