Luftrausers is deceptively simple in a way that few games truly are. It’s gaming bliss in pretty much its purest form. Luftrausers is probably the most German sounding word in existence, and it’s almost gloriously apt that it’s name means precisely nothing beyond “air”.
From the studio that brought your Ridiculous Fishing, Luftrausers is a masterclass in addictive game design. Vlambeer have managed to outdo themselves once again; Luftrausers is bullet-hell with a welcoming smile...
Luftrausers adopts the age-old Asteroids mechanic and brings it kicking and screaming into 1944. It’s a game without room for frivolity, but still somehow managing to hide a barrel of depth beneath a remarkably simplistic surface. It’s rare that a game comes along that’s so undiluted; Luftrausers is capable of burrowing deep down into your brain, grappling hold at the core of your addictions.
You’ll be playing as a German fighter pilot in Luftrausers. It’s a rare occurrence in gaming but it feels entirely befitting of the scenario, not that any semblance of plot matters beyond the three-second intro video. Boot up the game to the main menu and you’ll be told to push Up to RAUS, jetting off from your temporary warship and taking on wave after wave of enemies homing in on you from every direction.
These enemies range from gnat-like swarms of fighter pilots to heavy-duty battleships and even a gigantic screen-filling blimp. It starts off nice and easy, with the odd fighter check buzzing about here and there, but give it 30 seconds or so and it’s already descended into a sense of zen-like chaos. Bullets, beams, and explosions tear through the sky in a procedurally generated bullet hell, challenging you to do nothing more than to stay alive. You’ll try - and you’ll always fail -but not without a beaming grim on your face.
Controlling your plane is as simple as aiming and accelerating, but the way your plane pirouettes around the screen with gleeful abandon is a joy. At first it seems a touch haphazard as you careen about the place like only demented Luftwaffe know how, at the beck and call of gravity, but once you’ve got it nailed down and it mentally clicks that pitch is independent from acceleration it becomes second-nature.
Gravity being thrown into the mixer puts it a notch above Asteroids, constantly forcing you to shift and propel your plane around the single sepia-toned map. No where’s safer than being constantly on the move, and the propulsion system works great for giving your jet a burst of acceleration before turning around and firing backwards on the chasing foes. There’s a real sense of inertia, played off against precision and reaction times. The controls tight and inch-perfect; you know when you cock up that it's most definitely you at fault rather than the game, despite its savage difficulty.
Beneath the surface lurks a number of extras to keep you hooked beyond Luftrauser’s seemingly relentless difficulty and one-note pacing. A surprising number of customisable options are available for your craft, ranging from hover jets to nuclear bombs, laser beams, and even the ability to submerge beneath the waves without harm.
You can choose a combination of weapon, body and engine components, with each offering individual challenges for you to complete, such as kill 3 submarines in 1 life, or kill 30 fighter jets without letting go of accelerate. These add a distinct sense of moreishness to proceedings, as levelling up and completing new challenges unlocks yet more upgrades.
Every one of Luftrauser’s 125 combinations fees distinct and satisfying, offering tangible benefits and gameplay-affecting mechanics. Strapping the hover engine onto your plane makes Luftrausers feel like a completely different game, while homing missiles allow you to refocus your attention on dodging bullets rather than hunting down enemy aircraft.
Luftrausers also does away entirely with a traditional menu system, ensuring you’re never more than a button press away from looking at your stats, customising your craft, or getting ready to RAUS.
For all of its challenges and build combinations though, at the end of the day high scores are the aim of the game here. If you’re not one to sit around chasing new records or trying to beat your mates’ scores then this will hold much shorter term value to you. There’s essentially just the one mode available for you here, but when it’s this good it feels a little churlish to complain. As an example of the purest gameplay Luftrauser’s is almost unparalleled, but the almost total absence of mission structure of plot means that, unfortunately, it won’t be everyone. For those craving a pick up and play arcade classic though, it’s hard to go wrong with a spot of ‘Rausers.