The speed-run style genre is a beast that can sometimes be difficult to understand. Many believe that speed-running has no business being a “thing” because the point of a video game is to enjoy what it has to offer by taking your time. Remember, video games are meant to be enjoyed however the player sees fit. Speed-running a game offers many different challenges such as reaction time, puzzle solving and game manipulation that wasn’t originally offered in the first place.These types of challenges give a whole other sense of appreciation and accomplishment that many may fail to see.
That’s why many speed-run style games are popular such as Super Meat Boy, Celeste, Dead Cells and more. This genre of gaming has picked up drastically over the last few years and has developed into a popular eSport. Aeon Drive, developed by 2Awesome Studio and published by CRITICAL REFLEX has tried their hand in the genre and, although it offers the bare minimum of speed-run style action, it can fall short of a few things that make the genre so easy to pick up and play quickly.
Aeon Drive starts off simple and straightforward. A woman named Jack, a young space ranger from another dimension and her robo-sidekick Vera crash land in the city of Neo Barcelona with one goal, collect the drive cores she needs to repair the ship. Players have 30 seconds in each level to collect as many pick-up collectibles as they can and make it to the end of the level’s teleporter. Fail to make it, you start all over. Luckily, collect enough drive cores and you can add extended time by a few seconds to make it to the end. You will find your way through 100 levels set across several suburbs in the futuristic Neo-Barcelona. That’s 10 levels for 10 different environments. Doing the math, beating every level in 30 seconds without failing, that’s only 50 minutes of gameplay. Not much to play in the eyes of a non-speed-running gamer. Many would want to strive for perfection and collect everything that each level offers. No easy feat, so one must be strategic in how and where to be and when to use those drives to extend the time and make it to the top of the leaderboards. This is Aeon Drive’s core replayability feature, perfection!
There is Discord integrations and Streamer mode with Aeon Drive’s Global Leaderboards to challenge friends and players from around the world and local to show everyone how good you are. If you’re simply completing each level and moving on, you’re missing out on the challenges and difficulty that Aeon Drive has to offer. Keep in mind, the leaderboards track how long you took completing the level, not how much time was left on the clock upon completion.
Jack’s dagger teleport ability is the core gameplay mechanic to traverse the dangerous environments. She can throw it in any direction and then teleport wherever it is allowed to stick. She can also slide, and wall jump but be careful. One hit from an enemy and its back to the starting line again. The environments in Neo Barcelona are very generic and don’t really give a sense of something lived in. It’s rather more of a robot ridden wasteland with obstacles placed randomly for no real reason.
The anime/pixel art style is great for a simple action/platformer but since it has been overdone time and time again for the past decade or so, it really feels more of a reason to create quick assets and a reasonable game development turnover time to deliver the game rather than an art direction. As you progress through each environment, it does get progressively harder. You’ll find each level adds another element such as disappearing platforms, jump pads and more enemies among other things.
Although the dagger teleporting element of the game can be fun at times. The gameplay itself can sometimes fall short of fun. Jack does not feel so responsive compared to other platforming games. Learning the controls take some time to get used to in order to master them, but I just couldn’t get the hang of the accuracy and the timing of some dagger throws. It just didn’t feel fast enough. It didn’t flow. I had to stop myself a few times before a jump or throw just to give the game enough time to react to my reflexes. This is not how a speed-run game should feel.
Environment aside, I figured that I should be able to flow through the game non-stop with ease. Instead, I would jump on a wall and wasn’t on it long enough for the game to realize that I wanted to wall jump, so I’d fall to my death. I would want to throw a dagger to one end of a room so I can immediately teleport into it, throw the dagger again quickly out the room to avoid a hazard and the game wouldn’t allow me to fast enough. It’s almost as if there’s an unknown half- second cool down for a dagger throw. I hope some of these timing issues can be fixed in a future patch or acknowledged.
Timing aside, loading times, especially for me playing on a PS5 should not be an issue for a speed-run game. I should be able to jump in and out instantly and if I fail, immediately start again. Super Meat Boy for example, does this perfectly. When I die, I am teleported right back to the beginning. In Aeon Drive, when you fail in any way, there’s a brief loading and countdown to begin again. I would have wanted that when a player fails, it should just reset the time and character placement to begin again immediately.
If you like anime style voice acting, Aeon Drive has some great talent. Jackelyne is voiced by the illustrious Kira Buckland, best known as 2B in Nier: Automata, Reimi Sugimoto in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable, Trucy Wright in the Ace Attorney series, and Hiyoko Saionji in the Danganronpa series. I do, however, think the game needs a bit of work to be done. It has a lot of replayability and potential, but it just doesn’t seem like the core gameplay of it being a speed running game doesn’t fit quite yet.
You can find it on all last and new gen consoles including PC for a very reasonable price of $14.99. This is a great deal if you’re itching for a challenge, but I would keep in mind its flaws as well. This is not a bad game by no means. I would just not place it as a speed runner, I would absolutely recommend it as a good action/platformer.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Aeon Drive for the PS5 provided by 2AwesomeStudio.