Developer: 2Awesome Studio
Publisher: Critical Reflex
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Release Date: 30 September 2021
Price: US$ 13.49 – Available Here
Aeon Drive is an action game whose focus is on “speedrunning”. The indie market is flooded with “the Dark Souls of metroidvania” kind of action games, which makes Aeon Drive a breath of fresh air. Aeon Drive is a type of time trial action game. Time trials are normally a bonus mode in many action games, with the player trying to complete an area or set of bosses as fast as possible. Don’t be fooled by this simple premise, though; Aeon Drive is a full fledged game and features platforming and combat with a pacing that can be so fast, your eyes may be unable to follow the action sometimes.
Trying to escape from a war in her home dimension, our protagonist Jackelyne -or Jack for short- is forced to make a transdimensional leap. She ends up in a Blade Runner-esque Barcelona. As she enters Neo Barcelona, her ship is immediately hit by a defensive cannon, spreading her ship’s unstable dimensional cores all over the place and forcing her to make a crash-land. As she lands, she is immediately captured by Neo Barcelona’s security forces. Now, with the help of her robot drone friend Vera, she must escape prison and retrieve her ship’s parts before they explode along with the entire planet.
Aeon Drive ditches the old action game formula of going through a stage, collecting upgrades and/or currency, defeating a boss and whatnot in favor of something more direct and simple. The objective of the game is to reach the end of the stage before the time runs out. You have 30 seconds to rush through a given stage and get to the goal; along the way, there will be enemies and other obstacles that Jack must negotiate in order to accomplish this. Jack can swing her sword, jump, slide, climb walls and the most important ability of all: throwing her dagger. Due to the ship’s crash, the dimensional leap and everything else that transpired, Vera’s now able to teleport Jack for short distances. To do this, Jack uses a dagger that she can throw in all eight directions. Wherever the dagger sticks, Vera is able to teleport Jack instantly to that point. This teleporting ability is vital to completing the stages and is also the main feature of the game, allowing the player to go through the stages as fast as lightning.
To help the player along the way, Jack can collect time capsules. These are the only collectible items that can be used during gameplay and when enough time capsules are collected, you can replenish five seconds of your remaining time. There are other items in the game. They’ll unlock entries in the gallery mode among other things.
At a first glance, Aeon Drive may seem like a difficult game that is intended for high level or professional esports players. This couldn’t be farther from reality; although you can’t choose a specific difficulty, Aeon Drive is a very accessible and simple game. I’d even go as far to say that’s a fairly easy game if your only intention is completing the main campaign. There’s even an option to disable the time limit; it’s a nice addition that allows players to enjoy the game at their own pace. It can also be used as practice mode of sorts if you’re trying to find the best route to reach the goal faster.
Neo Barcelona consists of 10 areas subdivided into 10 stages. Each area has their own visual themes and music. The stages are very short and lack a bit of creativity in their design; even then, they’re still fun to complete.
The real challenge in Aeon Drive is placing high in the leaderboards but that’s completely optional. There’s also an option to tackle the stages with 3 more players cooperatively or to engage in PvP to see who’s the fastest. Currently, the game doesn’t have an online mode, but fortunately it’s getting implemented in the game soon according to the developers.
The game’s controls are responsive enough, and the overall difficulty maintains a steady pace, only turning up the heat significantly after the player has already progressed through a good chunk of the game; this inconsistency in the game difficulty and minor issue with a lack of variety in the overall level design are the only faults that I think subtracts from the game’s overall quality.
Aeon Driver’s pixel graphics are simple but well made. They not only lay the playground efficiently, but are also pleasant to the eyes with well defined sprites. Jack’s sprite and animations are well done and cute, making her look like a chibi Strider Hiryu. The landscapes of Neo Barcelona are also handled with care. Some of them were even modeled after real places in Spain and were edited to look as if they were set on an 80’s cyberpunk movie.
Featuring synthwave music, Aeon Drive’s soundtrack complements the fast action and overall 80’s feel perfectly. 80’s themes and music are already tired tropes in indie video games, but Aeon Drive’s music score is masterfully composed; it never stops, never gets boring, and last but not least, doesn’t interfere with the game’s flow in a negative way.
In my experience, “speedrunning” games aren’t the most prolific of action games variants. Aeon Drive is not only an excellent representative of this sub-genre in terms of gameplay but also has a lot of care put into its presentation. It reminds me of the NES era games where the basic requirements for enjoying a game were turning the power on and pressing the start button without the need to sit through countless dialogues and cutscenes.
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