Project AETHER is a nice little blast from the past in the form of a twin stick shooter. Mechs, laser beams, and a really dumb mining alien spaceship, Project AETHER has a nice combination of retro style arcade shooters and more new-age graphics and gameplay decisions.
In Project AETHER you take control of the AETHER prototype mech suit. During a trial run, you encounter hostile enemy units. As the best, and only, pilot of the AETHER suit, it is up to you to fight back the alien invasion. I’m going to be perfectly honest here, the plot is incredibly corny and a little clichéd, but that just makes it all the more fun. The banter is super corny, but it gives a nice retro feeling of old alien invasion movies and arcade games.
True to the old-school arcade fashion, you pilot your mech in a top-down auto-scrolling style. Enemy fighters will pour out of the sides of the screens and you need to destroy or survive waves until you reach the boss of the stage. In order to help you make your way through the hordes of enemies, you have a myriad of tools for you to make use of. While traditional arcade style shooters would have you earn weapon upgrades or changes from enemies that drop items, in project AETHER you can take with you two weapons into battle and swap between them freely. As you progress through the game and clear stages, you will unlock more weapons that you can equip before heading into battle. In addition to your two weapons, you also have access to a dash that, as a default, allows you to dash through enemy bullets, and an EMP that you can use to destroy a group of enemies at once.
Unlike more traditional titles in the same vein, you have a health gauge instead of a single hit point, and you also have a heat gauge on your weapons. As you keep firing, you build up heat. Once it maxes out, you need to wait for the weapon to cool down before you can fire again. But no worries, as you have a beam saber you can use as well. The beam saber has a three hit combo and is actually quite useful for dispatching nearby enemies if they get too close for comfort. The bosses usually consist of large ships, each with their own gimmicks and weakpoints, and were all pretty fun to fight.
In addition to the standard story mode, you also can take part in trial missions, which task you with performing specific actions or meeting certain objectives. Some of these are time trials, others may be weapon specific tasks. There are also endless and boss rush modes, where you can fight swarms of enemies till you die, and fight all the bosses in order respectively. Interestingly enough, boss rush is actually available before clearing the game, so if you’re good enough with the starting weapons, you can either get a sneak peak at the next upcoming bosses, or even beat the last boss before finishing the game. On an interesting side note, I actually enjoyed fighting every boss in Project AETHER, which I can assure you usually doesn’t happen with bullet hell type games, as there’s usually one or two bosses that you just never want to speak of afterwards.
Project AETHER does a lot of things right. The dash invulnerability is great for avoiding lasers and helping out newcomers to the genre who might not be used to bullet hell style games, the variable weapon loadouts keep the game from becoming tedious during longer segments, the addition of the EMP was a great feature that definitely made me want to get as many enemies as I could in a single go, and the beam saber is a freaking beam saber, nuff said.