Ah, for the good old days, back when the games industry was good! Remember when you had to go out to seedy arcades full of drunks and creeps, where you’d pay a quarter every time you wanted to play games designed to make you lose often and pay more quarters? It’s way better than today, where you can get an unheard-of amount of gaming fun for free. Well, if you want to taste the aged flavor of times long past once again, Yu Suzuki’s brainchild Air Twister is here to make it happen for you after a brief stint in Apple Land. You can almost smell the arcade smoke and BO.
I’d love to explain the plot of Air Twister, but the game itself does a far better job than I ever could. There’s far, far more going on than you’d think given the onscreen action, but so far as I can tell, you control Arch, the princess of the AIR, a race of humanoids capable of flight. The princess, along with a variety of animal companions, wages a defensive battle against the Needles, alien creatures who hope to destroy the Queen Bubble of the AIR, presumably by poking her. Something like that.
In practice, you probably won’t be especially concerned with any of that, because Air Twister is pretty much just a modern take on Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon. You control Arch and an aiming reticle, blasting away at baddies and dodging incoming fire, with options to shoot manually or lock onto baddies before unleashing a homing blast. Successful blasting earns you points, which can be converted to health boosts between levels, and stars, which can be spent on a surprisingly expansive grid full of skills and cosmetics.
That’s pretty much it, really! Air Twister’s a faithful callback to the shooters of old, so don’t come in expecting a lot of depth. The aforementioned star grid is full of upgrades and costumes, though none of which is going to change the underlying gameplay enough to make it unrecognizable. If you can’t get enough of Air Twister’s take on rail shooting, there’s also a variety of optional modes to check out, including an extra-hard bonus stage and an extra-hard, um, number-counting simulation.
Air Twister’s presentation is, well…weird. Weird is definitely the right word. Graphically, it’s clear this was originally intended to be a mobile game (debuting last year on Apple Arcade), and seeing it running on modern hardware at a higher framerate just drives home the uncanny-valley nature of the proceedings. The princess flies through bizarre landscapes battling surreal enemies, sometimes riding around on winged animals while doing so, and you just kind of have to make sense of it for yourself.
More importantly, you’re listening to Queen the whole time. Well, it’s not really Queen, but Dutch composer Valensia, and it’s closer enough to help make Air Twister one of the most bizarre shooters you’ll ever play. This really has to be experienced to be believed – check out a YouTube video if you haven’t seen Air Twister in action yet, but make sure you find one that hasn’t scrubbed the music.
The whole Queen thing makes Air Twister something of a must-play. It’s just that weird. Once you’ve gotten past the novelty of it, you’ve got a fun Space Harrier/Panzer Dragoon clone with a surprising amount of love put into some very strange places. Who knows what got into Yu Suzuki’s head while working on this one? The real take-home point is that we can hope some of this insanity ends up in Shenmue 4 if that ever ends up coming out.