The people at LudoCraft are one of the few groups of individuals I know who have retained their youthful ambitions. I say this because I don't know too many grown men who thought “Man, I really would enjoy watching pirates and vikings kill each other on hot air balloons. That would be legit.”Regardless of whether it was an awesome dream from childhood, or a bunch of grown men who mixed the wrong kind of mushrooms into their soup, they made Air Buccaneers, a game about vikings and pirates killing each other in the most historically inaccurate way possible. As a design, it's one of the most unique games to come out this year. As a game, it's got me on the edge. Chances are, it's just another indie game that is too obscure to be enjoyable, but that doesn't mean we're not going to try and review it.
THAT WAS A FUN-BOAT
Darn Interesting Idea - I don't think I've been able to get over the concept behind Air Buccaneers since I started playing it. Two masters of the seas decided killing each other in hot air balloons was preferable to doing it in the ocean and have set off to destroy the other one. These hot air balloons come in various forms. They can be large enough to have one man on the wheel and four on the cannons (with additional crew), or just small enough for one pirate to go kamikaze into a larger ship.
Everyone Has a Job - There's always something to do in Air Buccaneers, and a player would do wise to learn all the functions as soon as possible. One moment you'll be minding your own business as you attempt to crash your one-man kamikaze ship into an enemy's, the next you'll be running for your life from man-eating mushrooms. Aside from piloting an air ship and shooting cannons, players will find a wide variety of other activities that can prove vital for their team's victory. The key to success is figuring out what needs to be done at that exact moment.
Sounds so Bad That it's Good - The sound is really something else. It's so bugged and bad that it actually makes the game more enjoyable. An example of this is when your character jumps off of something for the first time on any given respawn. Jumping off of a ship only to press space bar and climb back up causes your character to let out a ten second death scream that doesn't sound dissimilar to me finding a brown recluse occupying the same space as myself in the shower. However, your character will only scream once, which means that if you simply fell off of the docks and walked back on, you've wasted your characters heroic death cries. Add this to the sound of your ships exploding and your captain screaming for you to desperately fix your ship, and you have a hilariously bad collection of random sound clips.
Like Nothing Else - There's a fine line between a game that's completely different from everything else being good and being bad. Air Buccaneers manages to just barely find itself in the safe place of being different and fun at the same time. The gameplay is something that can't be found in any other game, making it the only game of its kind. It's something to satiate your hipster desires.
I Can Pick This Up - The control scheme is deceptively simple. In someone's first life they'll easily figure out how to move. After dying once or twice, they'll understand how the cannon works. Then, after experiencing crash courses as a rookie captain once or twice, players will be able to master steering one of their ships. It's not something that's accomplished immediately, but it's user-friendly and forgiving.Deep Level of Customization - As a gamer who's been spoiled by modern trends, I tend to enjoy things that should have no bearing on a game's score. Leveling systems that unlock new skills and customization options are a key example of this, and Air Buccaneers has both. As a player levels they unlock visual upgrades to make them more unique. Then, as they steer, fight, and repair their ships they gain job experience that lets them do tasks easier. Unlike most games, while these abilities are nice to have, they don't give an experienced player too much of an advantage over a newer player. The advantages are there, but they aren't game breaking.
ALL ABOARD THE FAIL BOAT
False Advertising - Advertised as a combination of melee combat and ship battles, players will quickly discover themselves spending very little time aboard enemy ships. In the odd chance that two ships manage to get close enough to each other that they can board each other, opening fire with the cannons is often a much better decision than a boarding party. It's a bit disappointing how there's an entire mechanic of the game that doesn't get used.
After 4 Hours, I'm Already Bored - Being a very niche game, Air Buccaneers can grow very boring very quickly. After the shock and awe of hot air balloons blowing each other up ends, players will realize that there's not much to this title. The price tag certainly matches how in depth the game is, but it's a bit disappointing. It's an idea that's very unique and could have very easily been made much larger than what it is.
It Ain't Pretty - Even after you get past the bad character models and aged graphics, Air Buccaneers is not a colorful game. The dull shades of gray that can plague many titles is very much prevalent here. It's so bad that it often becomes difficult to distinguish friendly ships from enemies despite the red vs. blue color scheme that's been provided. Some of the visual effects can be nice, but they don't carry the dull color palette. It's one of those games that could have done very well with a very bright color selection but decided not to.
Air Buccaneers is an interesting idea, but it fails to have the meat or depth of a standalone game, regardless of the price tag. The entire concept is a game mode not dissimilar to one of the various mini-games found in Banjo Tooie and various other games. A great concept, but something I’d wait on to fully blossom; at least until it goes on sale for $5.
*This review was based on the PC version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*