The launch lineup of the Wii U had left me feeling a little dry on the retail side of things, and in the days leading up to the system launch, my attention quickly turned to the eShop. I had not been following the eShop release schedule very closely, so it came as a bit of a warm surprise to see that so many eShop games were going to be available on day one. Chasing Aurora is one of the five Wii U eShop launch titles, and it had somehow managed to completely slip under my radar until the very last minute. When I learned that it was the next game by Broken Rules, developer of one of my niche WiiWare favorites And Yet It Moves, I was sold. It didn’t hurt that it was a game about flight starring a birdlike race of people. That’s just plain cool.
One of the first things that you will notice upon starting up Chasing Aurora is the unique art style, which is both polygonal and beautiful. A large part of the allure of the art comes from the environments, which range from a fresh spring valley populated by evergreens to a gusty, ice-topped mountain surrounded by mist. Chasing Aurora is certainly pleasant on the eyes, and it reconfirms my belief that, although they may lack the raw tech of the big dogs, indie developers are generally the ones to look to for the most unique and creative art styles.
Bird-people. They’re like normal people, except also birds, and therefore infinitely superior.
The music isn’t bad either, although it mostly works in the background, putting the focus more on the mood created by the outdoorsy sound effects. I’d comment on the story, but there really is none. No context is given whatsoever for who these birdlike people are beyond their names, and why they partake in these games is left a mystery.
The controls are also commendable. On the GamePad, you move your bird-person (birdson?) around with the analog stick or digital pad, pressing the A button to flap your wings, while the R or ZR button will tuck your wings so you can dive quicker. The Wii remote utilizes a similarly simple control scheme. And that’s it, no extraneous actions are thrown in, just pure, unbridled flight controls. However, don’t expect to just spam buttons and fly around willy-nilly. Chasing Aurora is very much a physics-based game, and it requires you to master the rhythm of flight, which has a small, but noticeable learning curve involved. When you do get it down, however, it can feel glorious, and it pretty fairly imitates what birds must feel while flying free. Or so I imagine. Unfortunately, I’m not a bird, so I will never really know. Sigh.
Everything sounds pretty good so far, no? But there is a catch. Between the excellent presentation values and the sublime controls and physics, Chasing Aurora definitely has the core of a great game inside of it, and all that it needed was the content to back it up. Unfortunately, content is where Chasing Aurora falls short. It’s not that the gameplay is bad, on the contrary, it’s actually pretty fun when you dig into it. There just simply isn’t that much of it.
Tell me this doesn’t look awesome. You will be wrong.
I’ll start with the three multiplayer modes (all of which can be played with up to five players using the GamePad and four Wii remotes), which are really the meat of Chasing Aurora. Hide & Seek
has the player with the GamePad trying to “hide” from the players on the TV (split-screen) for 90 seconds. If the TV players are getting close, the GamePad player will see an arrow on the GamePad screen indicating the direction from which they are approaching, allowing him or her to flee. If the TV players manage to get close enough, however, they will see arrows on the TV pointing them in the direction of the player who is hiding, and can give chase. If a TV player can tag the GamePad player they will steal their “gem”, and if they can keep this away from the GamePad player for a short amount of time the game is over and the TV players have won. This is probably my least favorite of the modes; all too often (whatever my role) I found myself flying around aimlessly a bit too much until I happened to stumble upon someone, and it is possible to go entire matches without being a part of the (constantly moving) action.Freeze
reverses the roles and puts the GamePad player on the attack, in the form of an ice bird that can freeze the other players if touched. If the GamePad player can freeze all of the TV players before 60 seconds is up, the GamePad player is declared victorious; otherwise, the TV players win. TV players can unfreeze their frozen companions, but everyone must stay on the same screen together (no split-screen here) so it requires some coordination to avoid the dreaded ice bird. This mode is not bad, and trying to unfreeze your friends while avoiding the ice bird can be pretty intense at times.
is the only non-asymmetrical multiplayer game of the three, pitting all of the players against each other in a battle for control of a single gem; whoever has the gem controls the camera (again, no split-screen), and must then attempt to leave the others behind (to steal the gem, simply bump into the player who has it.) If a player is stuck off-screen for too long, they lose a heart; if they lose three hearts, they’re out of the game. This continues until only a single player remains, and victory is declared. Chase is probably my favorite of the three multiplayer modes, and my experience with it was pure chaotic fun, including lots of quick dives by the gem-holder and everyone else scrambling to keep up.
Split-screen multiplayer is making a comeback, baby!
All three of these multiplayer modes are played through various “tournaments”, which can range from a single match to five matches, contain matches of a single mode, or a mix, and take place across several different stages. There are many tournaments to choose from with a fair amount of variety, and even a random tournament generator, yet inexplicably there is no way to simply create your own tournament with exactly the match count, modes, and stages that you want. At the end of each tournament, whoever has the most points is declared the champion. You can earn points in these tournaments not just by winning, but also by how well you played the match; for instance, if you manage to be the one to steal the gem from the GamePad player in Hide & Seek, you will get more points than the other TV players, even though your “team” worked together (in theory) for the win.
These three multiplayer modes can definitely make for an enjoyable session with people over, but if you are home alone and want to play any of the tournaments, you are out of luck. Chasing Aurora has no online and no bots to play against; you simply cannot play multiplayer without other people in the room.
There is also a sole single player challenge mode in Chasing Aurora, but it is pretty negligible. In this mode you will be racing through short “trails” set up within the various environments, trying to complete as many laps as you can before the timer runs out, and I stress the word short; most trails will take you about 5 to 15 seconds per lap. This feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, as the flying mechanics really shine when they utilize the freedom of the wide open areas, while this mode feels very constrained, and flying lap after lap quickly becomes repetitive. I’m sure some gamers will find some enjoyment in polishing their skills and beating their best times, but most will tire of this mode quickly. Supposedly online leaderboards are being patched in to add a bit of longevity, but when the mode itself is lacking, does that really add much?
Why are we lowly human beings chained to this god-forsaken rock? I want to be freeeeee!
Speaking of the stages, there aren’t a ton of them, but there are an adequate amount to keep you occupied, and they feel varied enough. Many stages also include environmental effects that can mix things up, including wind drafts, falling rocks, fog, lightning and more. This creates an interesting mechanic where at any given moment you are battling both the other players and the environment. In one of our Negative World Chase sessions, there was a particularly hilarious moment where Anand kept getting struck by lightning, causing him to lose the gem several times in a row just as he was about to win. Chasing Aurora took it to him, Chicago style!
In the end, Chasing Aurora is a case of a clearly talented developer falling a bit short. The style, presentation, controls and physics are all top-notch for a digital download (I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing this engine return), and the gameplay that exists isn’t half bad either. However, there simply isn’t enough content to keep you busy for long, especially at the $15 asking price. If you’re getting tired of the chase games in Nintendo Land and really need another offline multiplayer game, Chasing Aurora has some neat modes and might scratch your itch for a bit... if only a bit. Otherwise, you may be better off waiting till this one drops in price.