Developer: 2Awesome Studio
Publisher: CRITICAL REFLEX
Contrary to what that one lunatic on twitter said a few days ago, speedrunning is not in fact a sex thing for the radical left. Despite this, dear reader, it is still extremely cool, and I’m glad that more and more developers are designing games with speedrunning in mind. Aeon Drive is one such title, a game where the levels are short, have a lot of paths you can take, and Earth will be reduced to space dust if you don’t get through them in thirty seconds or less. No biggie.
Players take the role of Jack, an interdimensional space pilot who crash lands in Neo Barcelona and must find her ship’s destabilized dimensional warp cores before they explode and take the entire planet with them. It’s a simple plot, but that’s perfectly fine because the gameplay more than makes up for it. Jack can jump, ground pound, attack with her sword, slide, and throw a knife that can be teleported to when embedded in a surface, which creates a lot of options for getting through any given level. The level design, as one might expect (or at least hope) encourages using this full range of options and switching things up to find the best way through.
The game’s one hundred levels are short but expansive, with many different routes that can be taken of varying quickness and difficulty, though that difficulty can sometimes vary wildly between levels. Three types of collectibles are spread throughout the game; diamonds, of which there is one in every level and collecting them all unlocks a second ending, the rarer data cubes that unlock various goodies in a gallery of sorts, and hot dogs which… as far as I can tell are only useful for unlocking the trophy for finding ten. In any case, there’s something to appeal to both casual players who maybe just want to get through the game (made easier by the ability to increase how much time you have with energy capsules sprinkled throughout the levels) as well as for a more hardcore audience who want to compete with others or even just challenge themselves. To that end, there’s an included leaderboard of best times for each level, though it did cause me to question the size of the game’s community as I would find myself in the top ten (and even sometimes at the number 1 spot) in many levels and I don’t feel I’m especially skilled at this game.
In any case, the movement is mostly very satisfying (despite a slightly weird looking run animation, but who has time to notice that when you’re trying to get a high score?). I say mostly because the controls felt a bit slippery on the PlayStation 5’s controller. On many occasions I would try to throw my warp knife directly ahead of me while running only for it to end up going at an up or down diagonal, presumably because I had my control stick tilted just slight too far in on of those directions rather than perfectly horizontal. This issue was exacerbated by the fact I didn’t realize for quite some time that the knife can be recalled, as it was never explained how to do so in the tutorial. For that matter, the ground pound was never explained either, nor was the meaning of the energy capsule counter on the file select screen which fluctuates seemingly at random. Additionally, in the interest of fitting all my complaints into one paragraph, the game doesn’t let you go straight back to level select from a level complete screen, instead only allowing you to restart, continue, or return to the main menu. It’s not the biggest problem in the world, but it’s still very annoying to have to go through file select and character palettes before you can pick your next stage while collectible hunting.
These gripes aside, the level of polish Aeon Drive has is generally very high. Though I’m not able to think of the tune of anything off the soundtrack now, it’s serviceable enough as background noise especially when combined with the sound effects, which really help to keep things engaging and sharp. The backgrounds and level art are surprisingly well detailed, with lots of little things going on behind Jack that help Neo Barcelona feel a little more alive if you stop to smell the roses for a second (thereby dooming the planet but eh, whatever). Some of these details – including my personal favorites the cats – even make noise to draw your attention to them, a nice little detail made all the nicer by the fact that it is totally unnecessary and would not have been missed had it not been included.
I hope my earlier suppositions about the game’s playerbase end up being proven wrong in the end, because Aeon Drive is genuinely a solid title that 2Awesome clearly put a lot of care into making. As I said earlier, I think it’s great that more games are being designed with a potential speedrunning community in mind (even if it’s not a leftist mating ritual) especially if they’re going to be as good as Aeon Drive. My ultimate recommendation? Help this game get the sort of attention it deserves and give it a chance sometime.
Great for speedrunners and fun for everyone else, Aeon Drive is a slightly flawed gem.