Once 1993 came along, companies were looking for the next Sonic the Hedgehog immediately. There were many attempts and they either fizzed out or had a few titles. But most were gone by the time newer generation hardware arrived in the mid 90s. Sunsoft threw their hat into the ring and out came with Aero the Acrobat. It was one of the very first games for Iguana Entertainment, whose only output prior was the Genesis port of Super High Impact. Sega Genesis owners got Aero in the later part of the summer of 1993, while SNES owners got it in the early fall.
My impression is that it is a mediocre platformer. It does a few things wrong that hurt it overall. But the thing is that it has the set up to be very good. While a circus is not completely original, it can be used for clever ideas. You guide the title character through 22 levels divided into four areas that cover roughly four to six levels, typically ending with a boss fight. It attempts to tell the story of an industrialist trying to destroy the circus and Aero is the only one that can save the day. It’s better than saving a princess.
Most games usually have you going left to right or vice versa, finding an exit to get out of a level. Not the case for a good amount of Aero’s levels. To fit in with the circus theme, it attempts with trying to have you do certain things as objectives. It’s only one objective in a level. Objectives could be making platforms disappear or going through hoops. Thankfully, it’s not the case with every level. A least you can have some breathing room as you try to get to the end of it. They do try to spice it up with levels that feel inspired by Battletoads and the Genesis version of Taz-Mania. There’s quite a bit of rides as you try to avoid hazards that lead to instant death.
One of the stranger things to the game is a timer. It was common to see platformers have time limits, though 1993 was where more games didn’t use it. What was weird is that while it ticked down, it didn’t have any consequences to reaching zero. Normally, that means a lost life. In Aero the Acrobat, the timer is just used for getting extra points at the end of a level. You can also get points from defeating enemies and collecting food. Also included was hit points, where you can add a few more hits. Get hit three to five times and Aero loses a life. There are checkpoints, and they will be your savior in critical moments.
Both 16-bit versions offer nice looking graphics. However, the cake goes to the SNES for the better color palette that is offered. Some of the animations are smooth when controlling Aero. With later levels, it reminds me of another Sunsoft game, Speedy Gonzales in Los Gatos Banditos. But overall, the circus areas are nice and some of the non-circus ones are beautiful to look at. In terms of audio, it’s not anything to get too excited about. The music fits the nature of Aero despite the SNES’s reverb. I don’t know which was the lead platform for this, but I’m going to assume the Genesis since some of the sound effects come off like what you would hear on a Genesis. Lastly, one of the few great things is the voice samples being clear.
There’s nothing to complain about in controlling Aero. You can jump and fire stars. Hit the jump button a second time in the air and you can do what they call a corkscrew attack. This is the only way to defeat enemies. Unfortunately, it can only be done diagonally, making not only defeating enemies hard, but also making platforming a bit of a pain. A feature that is similar to Mario World is to look around the environment, only in all four directions instead of just left and right. One bright spot is that you can alter the controls to your liking, but you’re still going to have the same problems. Speaking of enemies, there aren’t too many. You’ll encounter enemies that feel like they belong in a circus, so expect clowns and elephants, for examples.
On paper, Aero the Acrobat should be a home run. However it is bogged down by a number of issues. The difficulty, for one, is very hard. And not in that challenging type of hard. The corkscrew attack can be very futile as mentioned earlier. Hazards are a big problem. I understand them being an instant death, but Iguana went overboard with putting them throughout levels. Then add in some levels where platforming has to be tight with jumping, and it makes it even more frustrating. This is the result of very poor design, combined with not knowing where to go and where some of your objectives are. I don’t think the developers had any clue on what to do and threw whatever they thought could work into it.
The answer is obvious. Unless you’re huge into Sunsoft’s library of games, this version of Aero the Acrobat is not worth playing. It has good presentation and the gameplay is there and can, in theory, work. If only the difficulty wasn’t that high. At least the silver lining is that Iguana went on to improve with other games on the SNES such as Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel and branch out to do NFL games and NBA Jam.
Score: Two stars out of five
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