The dieselpunk art & genre doesn’t tend to be featured very much in video games, so it’s always interesting to see what a developer can come up with when diving into that space. There are a few recent standouts, like the RTS game Iron Harvest, and fan favorites like Bioshock, so I was excited to learn of Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings. I’ve found dieselpunk is often confused with steampunk when discussing the styles. The biggest differentiator is that dieselpunk echoes 1950s infusion with more futuristic machines and tech. One biproduct often seen in this style are magnificent flying machines, such as zeppelins and heavily modified combat aircraft. Airheart takes that style and runs with it to great effect.
Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings is a twin-stick combat flight roguelike where you’ll take on the role of ambitious young pilot Amelia. Yes, she looks heavily inspired by Amelia Earhart, and yes, you’re playing as Amelia in the game called Airheart; clever naming all around. Amelia is a Skyfisher, someone who flies around the clouds in search of flying fish. Her ultimate goal is to hunt down the legendary Skywhale in the upper stratosphere of her home region Granaria. To do this, you’ll simply fly around in your very maneuverable airplane, only having to worry about effectively steering right and left (this is far from an aircraft sim) and collecting fish, netting you currency. This currency is then utilized to upgrade your plane and to craft new parts. That being said, fishing isn’t so easy when the skies are littered with pesky Sky Pirates causing havoc. You will need to multitask and take down your enemies as you scour the environment for fish. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, from small and fast pirate planes to huge, heavily defended, zeppelins.
Unlike most typical roguelike-based games where you’re going deep into a dungeon, or exploring the innards of a space station, Airheart’s levels have you going up, up, up! You’ll start the game at your home station in the sky, and each level you enter takes you higher into the clouds with your eventual goal of reaching the stratosphere. I absolutely loved this innovative approach to the roguelike room system. Furthermore, to circumvent just grinding initial easy levels for currency, the amount of fish per level is limited, although they do replenish over a period time.
The game breaks down into two primary categories of goals you’ll be striving for. Fishing as stated earns you money, and money is used to try crafting recipes for new parts, weapons, and ammo types. Destroying pirates and finding hidden stashes in each level is your other goal, earning you shiny new parts and crafting materials also needed. It’s a simple system, but very effective in facilitating the overall progression within the roguelike gameplay.
Docked at your home port, you’ll have two menu options that sync up with these primary goals. The Shop allows you to peruse better ships and their parts. You can buy anything from new wings, to new hulls, and weapons all ready to go. The better the parts, the higher the cost to buy, and inevitably the longer the grind to earn enough money to afford those items.
The other option is your workbench. It opens up the entire crafting aspect of Airheart. When you destroy pirates or find hidden loot in levels and safely return to your home, you’ll net out various crafting elements. At this point you’ll find a crafting system akin to older versions of Minecraft, in which you’ll have several slots to place parts you’ve acquired, and then see if you can craft something new. New things come in the form of new weapons, aircraft parts, or even just more advanced crafting materials to use later on for more sophisticated items. During my time with the game I had pretty mixed reactions about this crafting system. While it does function well, I found it to be almost a forced feature with too much randomness thrown in. Crafting is done by trial and error. Although every failed attempt at finding something new won’t cost you any of the parts you’ve found, it does cost money dependent on the complexity of what you’ve tried to craft. You’ll spend a good amount of time in here just clicking different parts in hopes to craft a new item even with the help of the game’s crafting guidance system.
As with any good roguelike, death still comes with consequences. Here you’ve got two modes you can play in. The first being a bit more casual and safer story experience, while the other more traditional and hardcore roguelike mode. The latter features permadeth if you can’t land safely back at Granaria, and a lot of broken parts, which results in a drawn-out grind oftentimes to either craft or rebuy things you lost. I spent my time in the hardcore mode, and after many hours missed my landing once after being shot down and it was legit game over. I knew what I was getting into and still pressed the New Game button shortly thereafter.
Balancing of the game comes off well in most aspects for me. I found the economy of required grinding just the right pace of overall progression of my aircraft’s abilities. Difficulty ramps appropriately and after an hour or so of gameplay, I was breezing through the first couple of levels without hassle, while knowing that my grind points had evolved higher up in the sky. The game has done a good justice to the genre without creating too many hyper frustration moments often seen in other roguelike games.
Airheart’s overall presentation is great to look at. The visual identity of the game certainly draws many inspirations from dieselpunk art, and those of us old-school fans of Crimson Skies will certainly feel at home with the designs of the aircraft in this game. The experience is completed with a solid soundtrack of catchy melodic tunes, but does suffer just a bit from a slightly lackluster array of sound effects.
Sky Fishing, battling pirates and the whole roguelike experience fall into place nicely with Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings. It’s refreshing to see this roguelike break out from some traditional locations and tropes. Gameplay does still come with the ever-grinding territory of the genre, but with fluid flying controls and intuitive twin stick shooting, it’s easy to get accustomed to this game quickly and feel that burning desire to hunt that great whale in the sky again and again.
Airheart - Tales Of Broken Wings Review
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings delivers a reasonably balanced roguelike experience with a dieselpunk art style that looks great on the Nintendo Switch. Gameplay comes in the form of twin-stick arcade shooting & collecting, coupled with a trial & error crafting system that I found to be a bit annoying, but not enough to detract from the overall game. If you’re in the market for a thematically different roguelike, this game has a nicely structured game loop that delivers hours upon hours of fun.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.