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Luftrausers lives up to its arcade potential


Hotline Miami was the official pick for the "Most Fantastic" game at Fantastic Arcade last weekend, but the cabinet I returned to whenever I had a spare moment was Vlambeer's Luftrausers, the expanded PC/Mac game based on the Flash dogfighting game.

It's perfect as an arcade game, especially with the modifications Vlambeer put in place for the demo, as it gives you very simple mechanics to achieve an immediately apparent goal, and then leaves you to practice those mechanics for as long as you can survive. It's too bad an arcade cabinet won't be one of the default venues for the full game.

Gallery: Luftrausers | 5 Photos

The demo version generated random combinations of parts for your plane, whereas the real game lets you unlock engines, guns, and bodies and build your own vehicle. In the demo, you might end up with a giant cannon and an engine that shoots bullets to propel your plane, and in the next life you get a machine gun and an inertia-free engine.

The randomness was only in place to let people experience various parts quickly in a demo setting, but it makes Luftrausers a different game. In the real game, you'd be able to practice with your preferred build, get a feel for how it flies and shoots, and challenge yourself to destroy ever more of the planes, boats, submarines, and blimps that fill the cream-colored sky. But in the arcade demo, you adjust on the fly (sorry) to the crazy build you're set up with, and do your best to survive.

In either case, there are a lot of great touches that make the experience more enjoyable. For one, every part is associated with its own soundtrack element, so the music changes depending on what your plane is composed of. Little graphical touches subtly enhance the lo-fi presentation, like the way the water under your plane is disturbed, an effect Vlambeer said it paid special attention to during a panel at the event. The "screen shake" effect upon each successful explosion was also a major contributor to the satisfying feeling that shooting an enemy plane created.

Luftrausers is a fitting continuation of the gameplay style that Vlambeer explored in Super Crate Box. It's easy to play, and relies on a combination of continuous unlocks and – most importantly – responsive, satisfying explosions on the regular, to get players hooked on repeated short sessions.

Luftrausers is due on PC and Mac later this year. It's time to start building that home arcade cabinet you've been thinking about.

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