The SHMUP genre isn’t usually one known for it’s multiplayer. Titles like R-Type, Gradius and others usually garner attention due to their difficulty, spectacle, or their importance to the genre’s history. The titles that do feature multiplayer often offer it as an swap-off afterthought or a side mode at best. So when a title like Aperion Cyberstorm essentially makes it’s multiplayer the central feature of the title, you know you’re in for an interesting time.
Aperion Cyberstorm plays quite a bit differently than your average SHMUP. Rather than blasting your way through endless hordes of oncoming enemies, you instead can explore and move freely through a seemingly endless labyrinth of neon tubes. You move freely with one control stick, and fire just as freely with the other. Also in your repertoire is a dash, accessed with the front shoulder buttons, that functions as your “melee” attack. Finally, you have two special abilities activated by the back two shoulder buttons. I’ll go into exactly what those special abilities entail in a bit.
The basic gameplay of Aperion Cyberstorm is rather simple: traverse your way through neon hallways, blasting blocks that bar your path, until you encounter a room that enemies spawn in. Bust up the native baddies to unlock the next hallway, and then rinse and repeat. It’s a rather simple gameplay loop, but the consistent introduction of new enemies and concepts helps some. There are also some secrets and collectibles to find in the hallways. Shooting odd-seeming walls and finding a new power-up is always a welcome feeling. Eventually, once you’ve found your way around the map, you’ll find a glowing panel indicating the end of the stage. Touching it saves your game, and sends you to the next level, where you’ll start all over again. It’s not that complex, but it doesn’t really need to be.
Mirthful Multiplayer Mayhem
If what I’ve told you so far has made Aperion Cyberstorm sound underwhelming, then yeah, you’d probably be right. By now you’ve probably noticed the decent score though. So what helps it out so much? Multiplayer, that’s what. This game’s embracing of multiplayer is really what sets it apart from its peers. Most other games of this type nowadays relegate multiplayer to a side-mode, if it’s included at all. Aperion Cyberstorm lets you take on its entire campaign with up to 5 people. An odd number for sure, but the ability to play with friends goes a long way to help what would otherwise be a lonelier title. Everyone is on even ground here too. This isn’t Super Mario Odyssey’s disappointing Cappy mode, where it’s really only used to get that one damn volleyball moon. Each player has their own ship, specials, and everything. Everyone gets to play in Aperion Cyberstorm.
Of course, there are more multiplayer modes featured beyond just campaign. A slew of versus modes goes a long way to push Aperion Cyberstorm towards being a fantastic party game. The game types are pretty standard: deathmatch, objective capture, you know the drill. Each of these are a blast with 4 friends though, and the easy to pick up control scheme makes it the perfect pick-up-and-play title when you have pals around. The game modes in multiplayer feel akin to the likes of Starwhal, and considering this is a game also features a full-on campaign, that’s quite the compliment. It even has a horde mode in Onslaught, for fans of that subgenre. And all the customization options carry over. When it comes to multiplayer, Aperion has all its bases covered.
Aperion’s other big strength goes hand-in-hand with its multiplayer successes: your playable ship comes with plenty of customization options. Different chassis with different strengths and weaknesses, different elements to charge your shots, and a whole slew of special abilities. You unlock all of these customizables by playing through campaign mode stages and by leveling up via a standard EXP bar. Again, this is something plenty of other titles do, but Aperion allows each player to customize their ship individually, meaning each player’s loadout can be completely different. This adds a ton of much-needed diversity to the gameplay. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that you can upgrade your specials.
At each of the savepoints mentioned in a prior section, you can swap out all of your customization options, encouraging experimentation. Didn’t like the Hawk loadout you used in the previous stage? Switch it up and use another ship instead. Or maybe try out a different special. The stages go by quickly enough that you won’t feel locked into a set for too long. The specials have all different kinds of functions as well, with plenty for each play style. Rapidfire for those with itchy trigger fingers, spreadshot for those who want to clear a room, shields for the defensively-minded, and many more. And of course, all of these extend to Versus modes too. Your strategy for the campaign may not be as effective in a one-on-one.
Hey Pal, Can You Carry This For Me?
Unfortunately, while multiplayer in this game is a blast, it can’t shoulder all the game’s problems on its own. No matter how much more fun it is to play through the campaign gauntlet with friends, you’ll eventually tire of its repetition. There’s only so many times you can swoosh through a hallway and bust up a room before it gets tiring, even with customization. New enemies show up, but they’re all pretty much just a differently shaped target with a minor quirk. And while repetition is Aperion’s biggest problem, it’s far from the game’s only one.
For whatever reason, the campaign features some sort of incoherent “story” that, more often than not, gets in the way of gameplay rather than adding anything. Your pilots interact with an AI that’s been drained by the alien antagonists or something? Regardless of what the story entails, it breaks up the pace of the game so harshly, that the group I played with all unanimously agreed to mash through text boxes so we could get back to playing. That should tell you about how well the story is implemented.
The game has a nice visual flair to it, with bright neon outlines that would feel right at home in Tron. The music is no slouch either. Unfortunately, the game makes the baffling decision to pretty much only light the campaign map with player and enemy-centered spotlights. As a result, there were numerous times where my friends and I had beaten an enemy rush room and had no idea where the next pathway was because the door to it had opened off in the shadows somewhere.
Always Fly With a Buddy
When I first started Aperion Cyberstorm, I had a blast with it. Some friends and I chugged our way through the early stages of the campaign and played a few multiplayer matches. It was laughs and excitement throughout. It wasn’t until I went back later and played further on my own that the paint started to chip. Aperion has fantastic multiplayer value and is the perfect game to whip out at a party for some quick, raucous fun. But it’s limited by the way it handles its unlockables.
In the end, I came away from my time with Aperion Cyberstorm feeling disappointed. Not because the game was bad, it was certainly decent. But because it was held back from being something great. If you’ve got a bundle of friends willing to give Aperion Cyberstorm’s campaign a run-through to get to its chewy multiplayer core, pick it up. If you’re looking for a neat little party favor or your latest single-player title though, you’re best served to look elsewhere.
Review copy provided by aPriori Digital