A short while back I reviewed Liberation Maiden for the 3DS. The game was originally part of a compilation pack titled Guild 01 in Japan and it was a pretty fun, albeit short, action game where you saved New Japan from an enemy invasion in a flying mech. Well now the second game in the collection has landed on the Nintendo e-Shop where you... sort luggage... at an airport (can I just review Liberation Maiden again, instead?).
In Aero Porter you've been recently employed by an airport to ensure that the proper luggage makes it to the correct flight. You control a series of rotating lifts, each leading to a different aircraft, and must raise/lower the luggage to the correct, color-coded level. It’s a unique take on a classic puzzle staple (sort of like airport Tetris), unfortunately it’s bogged down by some truly odd design choices, each of which seems to work against the game rather than help it.
The game isn’t happy just letting you send bags to each plane. Oh no, you see, just as in real life, you can’t work 24/7 so the game puts a time limit on you. Fine, that’s not too bad. But then, of course, planes can’t sit on the tarmac endlessly waiting for luggage (except on every real-world flight I’ve been on), so the planes have their own time limits. Again, not too bad, but don’t forget that airports have to run on something, so maybe the generator that powers your conveyors will run out of fuel. If you’re keeping count that’s three ‘time’ limits that game imposes on you, which just makes the whole experience stressful instead of fun.
Oh but we're not done yet. Airports naturally cater to a wide range of people, from the everyday passenger to the important politician. In Aero Porter VIP requests are crucial to your airport’s success and are the only way to ensure your airport grows into an international hub, so pleasing these passengers should be your top priority. The problem is that their requests always seem to come at the worst possible time, totally breaking your flow and forcing you to completely dismantle your other rows to accommodate them. And did I mention that some people will try to sneak a bomb onto your plane? It’s almost as if the developers decided to throw everything they could at you, at once.
Even the game’s controls seem more than eager to impede your progress instead of helping it. Using the ‘L’ button to raise your lifts and ‘R’ to lower works well, but having to use both the Circle Pad and D-Pad just adds to the confusion. There's just so much to keep track of in Aero Porter that having to constantly switch between the two will lead to some frustrating moments. The worst of it all is that the Circle Pad’s function - turning lights on and off to save generator power - could have just as easily been mapped to one of the seldom-used face buttons. But no, pointlessly difficult is the name of the game here.
Oddly enough, the most fun I had with Aero Porter was in a little extra mode, tucked away near the game’s end that allows you to design your own planes and share them with other players via StreetPass. Building these StreetPlanes should appeal to anyone who has ever had a passing interest in aviation and LEGO bricks (my childhood summed up). It’s just a shame that, while you can design a plane however you want, the game won’t let you use it until the aircraft could feasibly fly, completely trimming the options for creativity and forever grounding my eight engine behemoth.
Visually, Aero Porter is about as appealing to look at as an airport diagram. In fact, 99% of the time you will indeed be looking at an airport diagram! It’s not that I expect my puzzle games to be visually intensive works of art but Aero Porter looks like it was slapped together in an afternoon. The game doesn’t even use the 3D capabilities of the 3DS (expect for in the StreetPlane mode), so it feels more like playing a Game Boy Advance game instead of a downloadable game from 2012.
If you've ever spent time in an airport (or maybe even an elevator) you will instantly recognize Aero Porter’s soundtrack. The same boring, monotonous loop of ‘music’ that blares out of waiting room speakers worldwide will accompany you on your career as an airport luggage sorter. In other words, it’s really bad. The game also adopts an annoyingly patronising tone of voice. All along your virtual boss is quick to criticize you in the same way the 16-year old me was told not to pack the bread under the potatoes.
For $4.99 Aero Porter isn’t a terribly expensive game but even at that price there isn’t much in the way of replay value. Completing the ‘story’ mode takes an hour or so (if you catch on quickly to the demanding gameplay), and StreetPlane construction is so devoid of features that you’ll be putting it down before too long. The one saving grace is that if you’re in the mood for a brutally difficult puzzle game then you might consider giving Aero Porter a shot if only for the challenge it presents. But keep in mind that between the 3DS e-Shop and DSiWare there are far, far better options out there for the puzzle enthusiast.
This review is based on a 3DS version of Aero Porter.