Review: Airoheart – Adventures Fit For Link To The Past Obsessives

Airoheart Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (docked)

Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and if that’s the case, then Airoheart is one of the most fawning releases on Switch today. There’s certainly no shortage of ‘Like Zelda’ available on console, but this is a game that stretches the term “inspired by” to its absolute limits, finding as many ways as possible to be The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past without tempting Nintendo to throw in their famous copyright ninjas for damage control. Consequently, fans of that top-down style of Zelda will no doubt find a lot to love here, as Airoheart does an adequate job of presenting a broad, linear action-adventure experience, but more often than not it feels like you were looking at a fun house. mirror reflection instead of the real deal.

Airoheart is set in the fantasy land of Engard and follows the story of two feuding groups: Elmer and Breton. The Elmer are masters of peaceful forms of magic, while the Bretons master the more offensive and violent magical abilities, and there has been tension between the two groups for as long as anyone can remember. Your character, a half-Breton named Airoheart who lives among the Elmers with his grandfather, is the brother of a Breton leader who is instigating increasingly aggressive moves against the Elmers in what appears to be the prelude to war. However, he seems to be more interested in retrieving the shards of the mythical Draoidhe Stone, a magical MacGuffin that will all but guarantee a swift Breton victory. Guided by a mysterious disembodied voice, Airoheart sets out on a quest to retrieve the shards before the Britons can claim them.

Airoheart Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (docked)

It’s not a terribly involving story, but it takes things in a deeper and darker direction than the typical ‘save the princess’ narrative. The eponymous hero is supported in his quest by a diverse cast of characters on both sides who help add some color to the slower parts between dungeons, and while we don’t find this story to be particularly memorable, we can appreciate the effort that went into giving the land of Engard a more nuanced social system that adds more texture to your dungeon.

Gameplay in shots of Airoheart strongly after A Link to the Past, following the same basic gameplay loop of traveling between dungeons, collecting new items and abilities, and exploring a world full of undiscovered secrets. The main gameplay innovation here is the inclusion of Runes, which are selectable spells you can cast using mana that will create effects like a healing light or a moving block to help solve puzzles. In practical terms, runes are just a different name for another set of items at your disposal, but their uses are distinct enough that it feels like their differentiation from the standard item set is warranted.

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When you’re not in dungeons, you’ll likely be entertained by trying out new toys to unlock new paths and caves to explore, or spending time buying or trying out new gear that slightly mixes up your stats. We didn’t feel like the gear and stat system here were enough to qualify Airoheart as an RPG, but the little buffs to, say, your crossbow bolt damage make a difference from time to time. The overworld also feels dense enough with worthwhile goals. This isn’t the kind of game with a bunch of nothing between the points of interest to give you a sense of scope; each grotto and cave usually has something significant to see and you can’t go more than a few steps in any direction without finding something more interesting.

Airoheart Review - Screenshot 3 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (docked)

Although much of your time will be spent exploring the overworld, the dungeons are the main draw of the experience here, each containing a strong thematic mix of suitably challenging puzzles and enemy encounters that are satisfying to overcome. That said, the lack of a localized map to help you navigate feels like an unnecessary handicap. Checking the map will only tell you where you are in the overworld, which is about as useful as asking someone where the bathroom is and asking them to tell you the city you’re currently in. also a lot of time trying to find the right path, and the challenges you face along the way are decently fun, but it’s things like a non-existent dungeon map that tend to blow the wind out of Airoheart’s sails. It has potential, and with a few changes it could be great, but instead it settles for just being good.

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And that’s the problem with Airoheart; it is penalty fee, but it feels like a less polished copy of a much better game. There’s nothing wrong with following the formula of a well-regarded classic, but simply repackaging one’s ideas with only the most subtle tweaks here and there doesn’t make for a must-have experience. Even when Nintendo went back to the well with A Link Between Worlds, it made it a point to pack some big innovations into the game, with a more flexible approach to the item system along with quality of life changes like a magic bar that recharges. Airoheart simply feeds off your desire to play more of a 30-year-old game you already own and can easily access on Switch, without adding significant new ideas of your own. It’s your group project member’s version of the game that throws his name into the slideshow without adding anything substantial to the content.

Airoheart Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (handheld/undocked)

Airoheart doesn’t spoil any of the big features of its game design, but the lack of attention to the smaller details adds up to make it less satisfying overall. For example, there’s a simply unnerving overuse of an extremely loud, sudden gunshot sound effect that often feels out of place. When the bombs go off, it feels like an appropriate noise, but it’s much more unpleasant every time you get hit, fire a crossbow, close a door, flip over a well (!?), open a chest, or breathe. You get used to it over time, but it’s so annoying and frankly weird presence throughout that, it actually drags the entire game to some extent. Little things like this aren’t damning on their own, but there are plenty of them and their presence is like a fly in the ointment; they are easily removed, but are bothersome and unsightly if left inside.

We also experienced some bugs and glitches, some of which were a bit of fun, most of which were a nuisance. For example, after dying to the final boss of a dungeon, we had a couple of occasions where we respawned at the start of the dungeon with zero health, which meant that Airoheart just collapsed right there. We also saw many cases where traps that launched timed projectile attacks would fail and some of the projectiles would get stuck in the trap’s hitbox. The worst of these was the game reverting to the splash screen, requiring a hard reset and having to retrace our steps to make up for the lost data. Some patches are to be expected, but in its current state, you’ll almost certainly run into some kind of glitch or technical hiccup that will impede your journey.

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Airoheart Review - Screenshot 5 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (handheld/undocked)

Presentation-wise, Airoheart has no qualms about elevating A Link to the Past’s visual style wholesale. Everything from the color palettes to the character sprites to the shape of the rocks you can pick up to throw at enemies could almost be mistaken for direct asset rips. things get a little bit more creative here or there, but we would have liked to see more effort to differentiate Airoheart and give it more of its own identity. nothing is seen badbut sometimes that lack of originality gives you the feeling that you are playing a trick ROM.

The music, meanwhile, is much less memorable, consisting of a series of generic, repetitive 16-bit chiptunes that are sort of there. At the very least, this soundtrack doesn’t get in the way of your enjoyment of the game, but it seems like an opportunity was missed here to integrate audio that could elevate and help shape the overall experience more.

conclusion

Airoheart is a passable game, but we’d hardly recommend rushing into it unless you just can’t get enough of Zelda’s 2D formula. It follows the A Link to the Past template so closely that it could never be classified as ‘bad’, but in a market teeming with homages, tributes and variations on the theme, it does very little to stand out. We suggest you pick this up by yourself after you’ve played A Link to the Past, the Link’s Awakening remake, and the two Blossom Tales games, and yet don’t feel like you’ve had enough of that specific brand of top-down game. Airoheart offers a proper adventure, and for $40 at the time of writing, we simply expect more.


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