A video game can take tens, sometimes hundreds of people to create successfully. Even some indie games have entire teams of developers working on building something special. So what happens when just two guys decide to create a retro dog fighting game inspired by some of the most classic games ever created? You get Rogue Aces.
On the surface, Rogue Aces is your simple 2D dogfighter that you might have played in an arcade as a kid. The campaign mode is cut-and-dry: your commander gives you a mission, you complete it, return to base, and get another mission. If you die, no worries, you can just play the campaign again with a different map layout and mission scheme thanks to the game’s roguelite mechanics. It’s a wonderful game to just pick up and play with no strings attached, but then you would only be barely scratching the surface.
Through the campaign, there are plenty of other modes to unlock, and plenty more gameplay mechanics to explore. Rouge Aces is so much more than just blowing things up and shooting down enemy aircraft. For example, there’s another unlockable campaign called Frontier that almost plays like Star Wars Battlefront 2’s (2005) Galaxy Conquest mode, wherein you slowly move forward towards an enemy base after overtaking different islands and the enemies on them. It’s an intense challenge and extremely hard to complete, especially when you happen to occupy the same island as a powerful enemy baron, who will stop at nothing to take you out of the sky. The barons are powerful enemies, and the first one I ran into gave me my first real taste of the intense dogfights that Rogue Aces excels at.
It’s moments like this in Frontier mode where the strengths of the game really come to the forefront. The roguelite mechanics of the different islands is genius; you’ll never see the same thing twice. That being said, a lot of the objectives are just blowing up different things in the ground and on the air, but as each island ramps up the difficulty a few notches it becomes more a fight for survival than anything. Dodging hundreds of bullets in the air as six dogs are on your tail and a battleship is shooting from underneath you can rival some of the biggest moments a AAA game has to offer, and the Contra-style graphics sometimes mean it’s prettier than those games as well.
While the campaign modes are good fun, there is also the more arcade-like modes where your score is everything. Survival mode gives you one plane and sees how long you can last before getting shot out of the sky. While this might sound boring, especially with how much you’ll get hit in any dogfight and your plane takes damage quickly, it makes for good practice for one of Rogue Aces best gameplay mechanics, hijacking enemy planes. You can self-eject from your plane at any given moment, and if you time it right and don’t open your parachute, your pilot will hijack an enemy plane, a la the Just Cause games. It’s amazing when you pull it off and is even the basis of another arcade mode in the game, titled Hot Potato.
Rogue Aces does a whole lot right, and really only goes astray when it comes to guiding new players. The tutorial for the game is brief, and really just lets you figure out the game for yourself. But it took a while for me to figure out even how to take-off in the modes that weren’t the Normal Campaign because the game never explicitly told me how to do it and Normal Campaign does it for you with the press of a button. The difficulty at the end of Frontier can also sometimes be frustrating, especially when you run into an overpowered baron, but for the most part feels fair in every other mode. Even when you’re having a hard time completing an island, there’s a feeling beneath every demise of you becoming a better pilot.
If you want a fun arcade-style dogfighter, you really can’t do much better than Rogue Aces. It’s challenging, funny, and explosive throughout. There’s something there for both casual and hardcore gamers, and each mode serves a purpose. Once you start to get better and better with the game, you’ll be dominating the skies in no time. Tally-ho pilot!