Developer: Iguana Publisher: Sunsoft Release: 10/12/93 Genre: Platformer
Sunsoft were a powerhouse on the NES and one of its best developers. They made that hardware sing like few others and are one of the reasons why the NES is one of my favorite systems of all time. But the 16-bit era was not so kind to this once elite developer, with their output in the West mostly consisting of Looney Tunes titles. But there were a few original games sprinkled in their lineup with Aero the Acrobat being one of the most interesting. As their entry in the mascot wars it is more memorable than most of its contemporaries. But a few issues keep it from greatness.
Edgar Ektor was once the World of Amusement Circus’s biggest fans. But an unfortunate prank leaves him banned for life from its premises. The bitterness stews and twenty years later he returns, aided by Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel and his Psycho Circus gang. Ektor kidnaps all of the circus’s performers except Aero the Acrobat, its top star. Aero is now the circus only hope.
It would be easy to dismiss Aero the Acrobat. Nowadays the character is forgotten. But at the time Aero the Acrobat was one of the more successful mascots, spawning a sequel and a spinoff starring one of his enemies. How many games do you see starring Awesome Possum huh? I kid, I kid. The game was also ported to the Gameboy Advance with many of its flaws fixed but it ultimately did not lead to a revival.
Aero has a solid set of mechanics to play around with. Rather than the standard butt bounce he has a spinning drill attack. This attack can be aimed diagonally upward or downward and is performed in the air. It also doubles as your…double jump. As a bat Aero cannot fly freely without a power-up but can hover briefly before dropping. Scattered throughout the levels are magic stars that serve as projectiles. These are mostly worthless however. Stars are not in ready supply and most enemies have specific vulnerability windows that they cannot bypass.
Aero the Acrobat differs from most platformers in that its levels task you with a specific goal. These are mostly simple, like falling through twenty-five hoops or surviving until the end of the level. Most levels are massive in size and filled to the brim with secrets. For the most part in most levels if you follow the general path you will accomplish your goal before reaching the exit. But midway through as the stages become larger you will have to actively search them out and will more than likely wander aimlessly. This is when the game’s design starts to work against it. In the circus style levels the variety on offer not only makes it unique but fun. But once you move away from that it feels generic and less interesting.
As much as I like Aero it does not make a good first impression. The circus theme permeates every corner of the game. That gives it a unique hook and makes it different from its generic platforming brethren. But the first circus world drags on far too long and its gimmicks and mechanics become annoying. Stick with it and the game opens up after that. The following worlds (Funpark, Woods, and Museum) are a welcome change of environment while still keeping the circus theme. They introduce new traps and enemies as well as numerous auto scrolling levels that offer a change of pace> they would give the game some momentum if they were not so god damn hard, a criticism that applies to the game overall.
The difficulty in Aero is brutal and not in a good way. Even with a life bar spikes and similar hazards equal instant death. The game revels in placing them everywhere; at the end of the too numerous blind leaps, on the sides of platforms, even next to extra lives which defeats the point. If you see a trampoline or cannon there is a guarantee spikes are nearby. The game feels malicious rather than challenging as a result and it gets tiring after a while. Someone on the dev team must have realized this as you will drown in extra lives. It is not uncommon to have upwards of 20-30 lives. That is because you need them. It is astounding how fast you will use them up. With limited continues and no passwords this is one of the tougher platformers and sadly it will affect your enjoyment of the game.
Aero the Acrobat is a respectable attempt at a mascot platformer and enjoyable in spite of its flaws. It stumbles here and there and can be frustrating as all get out. But its heart is in the right place and I still enjoyed my time with it. That being said I would recommend the GBA version as it smooths out the game’s rough edges.