The Comic Commish: Luftrausers

Welcome, all and sundry, to another Comic Commish: a series of, well, oblique "thank yous" to the kind folk who have gifted me games on Steam in the past few years that I've neglected to either thank properly (and today's really no exception) nor have I actually bothered to play the games they were so gracious to send me. Until today, that is. This month's game is Vlambeer's Luftrausers, which comes courtesy of a Giant Bomb user whose username I forgot to write down to my ultimate chagrin. Still, I'm raising a salute in honor of the Unknown Duder with April's (well, technically March's; I'm still behind) Comic Commish, flying in just under the wire.

March: Luftrausers

Talking of protracted flight and/or military metaphors, Luftrausers is a World War... X(?) dogfighting game that hearkens back to not only an era where blimps and non-jet-propulsed fighter planes were relevant in aerial warfare but also to an Arcade era of 2D (kinda) open-world shoot 'em ups like Konami's Time Pilot, Namco's Sky Kid and an old freeware Amiga game called Dogfight that I'm sure no-one remembers.

But, oh man, is this game something else.

Welcome to Luftrausers! This game doesn't have a title screen, so that's a good start. You can get these shocked looking guys from the intro movie. What's causing them to perspire pixels?
Welcome to Luftrausers! This game doesn't have a title screen, so that's a good start. You can get these shocked looking guys from the intro movie. What's causing them to perspire pixels?
Probably not my crappy little Rauser here. Though there's quite a bit going on under the hood of this thing, as we'll find out.
Probably not my crappy little Rauser here. Though there's quite a bit going on under the hood of this thing, as we'll find out.
The fact is, the Rauser can cause considerable damage to opponents by ramming them, generally not a sound strategy in aerial combat. It will also regenerate health as long as the player isn't firing, allowing it to escape near-death experiences countless times over. It's a stout little punter, as we Brits probably say.
The fact is, the Rauser can cause considerable damage to opponents by ramming them, generally not a sound strategy in aerial combat. It will also regenerate health as long as the player isn't firing, allowing it to escape near-death experiences countless times over. It's a stout little punter, as we Brits probably say.
Though stout can only take you so far on your initial playthrough with no idea what you're doing. This William Sadler looking fellow is our mission commander, who helpfully gives us directives for the following battle. While chasing a high score is always a good idea (it's what leads to level-ups - the actual purpose of which eludes me) it's better to give the player some short-term goals to chase after to keep them hooked. That's some modern game design, that is.
Though stout can only take you so far on your initial playthrough with no idea what you're doing. This William Sadler looking fellow is our mission commander, who helpfully gives us directives for the following battle. While chasing a high score is always a good idea (it's what leads to level-ups - the actual purpose of which eludes me) it's better to give the player some short-term goals to chase after to keep them hooked. That's some modern game design, that is.
Meanwhile, this rather stern character monitors our statistics. No real reason to pop in here, but it's where you get detailed feedback on your previous sortie. Not too bad for someone who was dropped in the middle of a fracas with no maracas, as we Brits almost certainly never say.
Meanwhile, this rather stern character monitors our statistics. No real reason to pop in here, but it's where you get detailed feedback on your previous sortie. Not too bad for someone who was dropped in the middle of a fracas with no maracas, as we Brits almost certainly never say.
Holy shit, you can go underwater? This is a game changer! (Well, except that it kills you pretty quickly without the right loadout.)
Holy shit, you can go underwater? This is a game changer! (Well, except that it kills you pretty quickly without the right loadout.)
Did I intimate a customizable loadout? Well, that's what's coming our way now we have a few missions under our belt.
Did I intimate a customizable loadout? Well, that's what's coming our way now we have a few missions under our belt.
The Rauser has three parts: a weapon, a body and an engine. Once you hit five skulls (each completed mission counts as one skull, and each individual part has its own inherent mission chain), a new item opens up in that category. Most of the alternatives tend to have both pros and cons, like this hard-to-aim laser.
The Rauser has three parts: a weapon, a body and an engine. Once you hit five skulls (each completed mission counts as one skull, and each individual part has its own inherent mission chain), a new item opens up in that category. Most of the alternatives tend to have both pros and cons, like this hard-to-aim laser.
This is an interesting loadout: while I won't be doing that first task any time soon, the body part is a big spike that does considerable damage to vehicles when you fly into them, making larger targets like the boats easier to take down. This engine uses bullets to propel itself, shooting enemies behind the Rauser.
This is an interesting loadout: while I won't be doing that first task any time soon, the body part is a big spike that does considerable damage to vehicles when you fly into them, making larger targets like the boats easier to take down. This engine uses bullets to propel itself, shooting enemies behind the Rauser.
Awesome. Do I get anything? No? Well, I do have a new rank badge at least. Feels like I'm playing Last Alert again.
Awesome. Do I get anything? No? Well, I do have a new rank badge at least. Feels like I'm playing Last Alert again.
While the early game is full of tiny fighters and boats, the big guns start showing up once you've shot enough enemies down. The game's difficulty steadily increases based on the player's kill total, dropping tougher and tougher enemies in the field until the player finally buys the farm. These battleships are really not pleasant.
While the early game is full of tiny fighters and boats, the big guns start showing up once you've shot enough enemies down. The game's difficulty steadily increases based on the player's kill total, dropping tougher and tougher enemies in the field until the player finally buys the farm. These battleships are really not pleasant.
I found a body type that nukes the whole playing field after the Rauser is destroyed. It's the most spiteful thing and I love it. Banzai, motherfuckers.
I found a body type that nukes the whole playing field after the Rauser is destroyed. It's the most spiteful thing and I love it. Banzai, motherfuckers.
Certain achievements, like taking down one of the elusive submarines, gives you these neat little animations.
Certain achievements, like taking down one of the elusive submarines, gives you these neat little animations.
After about 30 minutes, I get this scene of the scientists hard at work. It means I've finally unlocked all the Rauser parts! But my trials haven't ended yet. I've still got to hunt the enigmatic blimp.
After about 30 minutes, I get this scene of the scientists hard at work. It means I've finally unlocked all the Rauser parts! But my trials haven't ended yet. I've still got to hunt the enigmatic blimp.
As you can see, quite a lot is riding on my ability to take down one of those rigid airships. Still, how hard can it be? Those things were all still filled with hydrogen in this era, weren't they? I bet I could just fart at it and it would explode.
As you can see, quite a lot is riding on my ability to take down one of those rigid airships. Still, how hard can it be? Those things were all still filled with hydrogen in this era, weren't they? I bet I could just fart at it and it would explode.
I think the cannon is my favorite. It takes some time to recharge between shots, but it's been pretty reliable for taking down larger enemies.
I think the cannon is my favorite. It takes some time to recharge between shots, but it's been pretty reliable for taking down larger enemies.
See? This is the first time I've ever been able to take a battleship down legit. The rest of my battleship kills were all post-death nukes.
See? This is the first time I've ever been able to take a battleship down legit. The rest of my battleship kills were all post-death nukes.
You know, I keep unlocking these alternate color schemes and I've not gone to check if they- AGH MY EYES. THE AVIATOR GOGGLES DO SURPRISINGLY LITTLE.
You know, I keep unlocking these alternate color schemes and I've not gone to check if they- AGH MY EYES. THE AVIATOR GOGGLES DO SURPRISINGLY LITTLE.
What the flying fu... is this a blimp? It's like some kind of metal sky whale with more guns than Ted Nugent.
What the flying fu... is this a blimp? It's like some kind of metal sky whale with more guns than Ted Nugent.
Yeah, unsurprisingly that thing turned me into a fine mist almost immediately. You boys in R&D might want to consider orbital lasers or some sort of bipedal tank. I'm just a tiny, tiny fighter plane with delusions of grandeur. I blame the music.
Yeah, unsurprisingly that thing turned me into a fine mist almost immediately. You boys in R&D might want to consider orbital lasers or some sort of bipedal tank. I'm just a tiny, tiny fighter plane with delusions of grandeur. I blame the music.

Well, we've seen the officers back at HQ, but the game doesn't adequately explain who is actually flying the plane. Surely they can only rely on the best of the best? The créme de la créme? The Huey of the Lewises?

No Caption Provided

This game rocks. I'm generally lukewarm on games with simple, repetitive Arcade-style gameplay and an upgrade system that requires a lot of repeat business - Kongegrate and Newgrounds are filled with the things, all playing on some variation of a player feedback loop of "do well, earn improvements, do better" - but Luftrausers raises the bar with its presentation. The angular and austere character design (which, yeah, is a little close to the you-know-whats, but it's not like the Royal Air Force were particularly loose and "rock n' roll" and "playing volleyball with the boys to Kenny Loggins" back then either), the stark visual design of burgundy-on-urine and that fantastic track, that changes ever so slightly depending on the player's loadout, lends itself to multiple playthroughs.

The the most positive accolade I can give Luftrausers is thus: I don't give a fig for games that nakedly exhibit the aforementioned cyclical player-hooking mechanic in lieu of something more appealing to the non-insect part of my brain, like a story. I don't give a fig for shoot 'em ups in general (I die too often). I don't give a fig for games based on World War 2 or have strong WW2 allusions unless glowy blue anime ladies are involved. But I give all the figs (and several other types of stick) for Luftrausers. It's neat.

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