A few months back, Video System’s Aero Fighters 2 ($3.99) arrived on the mobile Arcade Archives. I found it was a good fit for mobile play in my review, and gave it a hearty recommendation. At the time I noted that it probably wouldn’t be long before Aero Fighters 3 ($3.99) rolled in and, well, here we are. Originally released just over a year after the previous game in the series, Aero Fighters 3 is certainly a more confident game than its predecessor, but is it better?
The answer to that question is, unfortunately, mostly a no. On the positive side of things, you’ve got a wide array of characters to choose from and can pick whichever pilot you like in single-player. There are also quite a few stages, with the branching nature of progression in the game giving it an extra bit of replay value. Some of the characters can now charge up their basic weapon, which adds an extra style of play to the game. There are a few interesting and very amusing secrets to find. It’s a competent game in most respects, and it hasn’t lost that bizarre sense of humor that made the previous game so memorable.
The biggest failing of Aero Fighters 3 is in the brevity of its stages. Some of them barely get going before the boss arrives, and they’re all conspicuously short. The bosses are a bit longer, with almost all of them taking on multiple forms until they finally go down. The patterns run on the basic side, and few of them have any truly interesting gimmicks. A complete run will take you through eight stages, with a few of them being bonus rounds. So yes, not very long or interesting, and you’ll be spending almost as much time fighting bosses as you will traveling through stages.
A clever scoring system can save many shooting games in similar circumstances, but while Aero Fighters 3 does have a bit more to chew on in that regard compared to the second game, it’s not especially intriguing. Defeat enemies, avoid getting killed, pick up bonus point items when they crop up, and try to hold on to your powered-up state so subsequent power-ups will just give extra points. You’ll also want to learn which routes have the most potential for higher scoring and take those. It’s not nothing, but it’s also not really good or unique enough to elevate the game.
What does elevate it somewhat is the same thing that helped the previous game so much: the humor. Your chosen character will make comments as you progress through the game, and each solo character and team has a unique ending, most of which are ridiculous. The Russian team of Spanky the Dolphin and the twin sisters Chaika and Pooshika, for example, have an ending where the ladies are wondering just how a dolphin flies an airplane. It then cuts to Spanky complaining about the heat and removing his head, which is now obviously a costume, revealing a strange-looking guy underneath. There’s a lot of strange jokes like this in the game, and it makes you want to clear the game with everyone just to see them all.
The other way this follow-up loses something compared to its predecessor is less consequential for this mobile version, but it does bear mentioning. Aero Fighters 2 allowed two players to mix and match characters from different countries, but Aero Fighters 3 forces both players to use characters from the same country. This significantly cuts back on the number of potential endings, which is probably why the developers did it, but it also cuts back on the flexibility in building teams. But in this mobile version, you can only play with a second player if you have external controllers anyway, so it is not likely to be a factor for many of you.
While we’re here, let’s cover the usual checklist of points about Arcade Archives mobile releases. You get the usual array of modes, with both international and Japanese versions of the game available along with a Score Attack and Caravan Mode to play. There are online leaderboards for you to compare with others on, essential in this kind of game. The game features support for external controllers, though like the previous game the touch controls work perfectly fine here. You also get the usual array of options, including difficulty toggles, video settings, control mappings, and audio settings. Naturally, the emulation is as high quality as ever. Hamster has NEOGEO down to a science by now.
Aero Fighters 3 isn’t quite the game that Aero Fighters 2 is, but it’s still a decent enough shoot-em-up romp to be of interest to genre fans at this price. The goofy humor helps it stand out from the crowd, and having so many different characters to use adds greatly to the replay value. If the levels were a little longer and the bosses a little more interesting, this would have been a better experience all around. But it is what it is, and Hamster has done its typically fine job in adapting it for mobile devices. For the price, it’ll do.