I bought Luftrausers a few weeks ago, right after it launched, and proceeded to play the game every single day until I “beat” it. I know that you can’t really ever beat a game like this — you just get higher and higher scores — but my fervour for the game died away as the gigantic blimp boss fell from the sky. I’ve still got the game installed on both my PC and Mac, but I haven’t launched it since. However, please don’t be confused by this: just because I’m probably done with Luftrausers now, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot (and then another, and another…).

Luftrausers is one of those titles that can basically sell itself with a gameplay trailer, but I’m going to talk a little about it anyway. In some respects, Luftrausers feels like it was crafted and not developed — the quality of the animation makes the game feel positively kinetic. The controls are a classic combo of simple-to-learn but hard-to-master. You launch from a submarine, turn using the ‘LEFT’ or ‘RIGHT’ keys, activate thrusters with the ‘UP’ key, and fire your weapon with ‘X’. This default scheme works, but I eventually changed the thruster key to ‘C’, so that my left hand could control thrusters and weapons, and my right hand could take care of steering. I found the mental load of steering and fighting much less taxing this way.

Luftrausers’ control setup, combined with the accurate enemy fire, force you to deviate from your normal concept of dogfighting. Combat in Luftrausers is really more about somersault fighting, interrupted by brief periods of flight. There’s a sense of speed, heft, and impact to Luftrausers that’s rarely captured in other games – 2D or 3D. It’s got oomph. Cruising between bullets, cutting my thrusters, and executing a 180-degree turn in mid-air brings back mechanical memories of Gundam Wing, Cowboy Bebop, and Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica (the latter most of all).

Luftrausers leads the player on with high scores and a number of interesting unlocks (chassis, weapon, and thrusters). You can mix and match each of these unlock categories to make your own Franken-plane, and there were a good 6-10 planes that I really enjoyed flying. Each combo of chassis, weapon, and thruster would change my approach to combat, turning previous DON’Ts into sudden DOs.

The game’s main draw is its unceasing onslaught of enemies. If you want a break from the action in Luftrausers, you have to die or manually pause the game. This is what makes the game so much damn fun, but there are also times where Luftrausers can kill its own buzz by spawning too many beefy battleships. Battleships take at least a few strafing runs to take down (which is an eternity in Luftrausers time), and the satisfaction of sinking one can be drowned out by having four more battleships suddenly pop up — making the previous 20 seconds of combat feel moot. I’m sure the developers at Vlambeer have their reasons for not including it, but a wave-by-wave approach to Luftrausers would also have been interesting. I think a few seconds of quiet could have helped to amplify the rush of fighting off a fresh wave of enemies.

While I’ve concluded that Luftrausers isn’t my perfect bullet-hell title, it’s a game I’m very glad to have in my library. It’s a 2D shooter with a sense of speed and momentum like no other, and the rush you get from flying a Rauser really has to be experienced first-hand.