Sometimes You is continuing their trend of releasing bite sized arcade-style action games that can be finished in one longer gaming session but best played in short bursts. Instead of being a Bomberman clone like Explosive Jake, or a dastardly action platformer like Awesome Pea, Aircraft Evolution separates itself from the other titles in the Sometimes You library by providing an aerial combat experience similar to Defender or Scramble. However, it still feels like a Sometimes You game thanks to the brief stages and a campaign that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Starting as a slow moving, wooden plane, the player is tasked with destroying ground and air targets from a 2D side scrolling perspective. Again, think Defender but the screen doesn’t loop – the screen just stops when you hit the edge, forcing the player to turn around. Turning around isn’t that big of an issue but flying north beyond the upper board is. The plane can fly as high as the player wants to take it but there is no indicator when the player goes off screen. The threat of losing yourself in no man’s land above the top of the screen is a bit of an issue, especially in the earlier stages when the up/down controls are not fully understood.
Level 1 is easy enough and acts as a very basic and brief tutorial. Level 2 on the other hand was a different story. Underpowered and still new to the slow controls, it easily took me over a dozen times to finish this second stage. Luckily, with each death, the player still accumulates cash and experience which can be used to upgrade the plane. Even though it can be easy to fail in the opening stages, the player still gains something, respecting the player’s time and providing constant incentive. In time, new planes can be unlocked and purchased, then upgraded with enhanced weaponry and statistics. There are many planes to unlock but the player will only purchase a few before the final credits roll unless the player wants to grind for hours which throws off the balance in the favor of the player. For example, instead of buying the middle experience planes, I saved to buy the best plane after buying a low level model. Then, when upgraded, I became an unstoppable force. What starts as a stiff difficulty curve in the opening stages becomes a breeze in the later levels.
Once the finicky controls are understood, Aircraft Evolution becomes an addicting romp and I had to stop myself from finishing the entire campaign in one sitting, wanting to save some for later. There is variety in the stages too. Although there are many “blow up everything” mission objectives, there is the occasional “reach the end in a short time limit while avoiding air mines” levels and some other timed based objectives. There is even a bonus stage before the bigger boss battles that cap each time period. The “evolution” part of the game’s title comes from the progression of air travel technology every ten stages. It actually becomes a bit comical if the player choose to fly a wooden, first-gen plane in the modern later stages that have alien flying saucers and super sophisticated aircraft and tanks.
Each plane has an unlimited stockpile of bombs and machine gun fire. It actually took me several levels before I realized there even was a machine gun option. The biggest issue is the small, unreadable on-screen text and the nearly invisible bullets that are exchanged between you and the enemy. At times, I thought I was getting shot out of the sky for no reason but then realized I was getting shot by machine gun bullets that are so tiny they are nearly impossible to see. Adding flavor to the game are the power-ups that rain death upon anything on the surface. These limited bombs are powerful but need to be used conservatively as the stockpile carries from level to level. Unfortunately, it is a little awkward to select this enhanced weaponry by flicking the analog stick to highlight a symbol in the corner of the screen that is difficult to read due to the small size.
Flaws aside, I wound up enjoying Aircraft Evolution a lot more than I thought I would, especially after the troubling opening stages. I am glad I stuck with it because this is another sleeper hit by Sometimes You and an easy to way to increase Gamerscore.
Also available on Nintendo Switch and PS4.