I’d always wondered what human flight would be like. Whether it would be wings with feathers, squirrel suits or jet packs I had dreamed of being able to launch myself through the sky and float through the clouds. What would freefall feel like? How would I turn and spin, aim and dive?
That’s essentially the premise behind Chasing Aurora for the Nintendo Wii U. The game focuses on the joy of flight, asking players to take up the personae of one of several birds as they fly throughout the game’s world. And though it nails what flight would probably feel like, it comes up short on the remainder of the gaming experience.
The game’s exposition of flight is often ethereal: it’s a mix of catching air currents and wing flaps, and like a baby bird leaving the nest it requires a little practice to learn. There are moments of frustration followed by relief as the education takes place. “Ahh, why am I turning that way!” can regularly lead to “oh, I think I got it now.”
Flight is achieved by catching air currents, flapping wings and diving downward. There are times when I chose to let my bird float rather than speed up by flapping, as floating allows for a more controlled flight. A single flap of the wings leads to a charged push through the air, and being sure that I know which direction I’m headed becomes critical. Even one slight wrong movement can send the bird careening and twisting into walls. Once flying is mastered I found it becomes carefree and genuinely enjoyable to float around the game’s levels, and I knew how my bird’s body would be affected by currents almost like a sixth sense.
Thanks to the audio and visual design, the game is equally artful. The score mixes acoustic and electronic music, and would fit well within a coffee house on a Saturday night. The minimalistic art has a Cubist feel to it, with defined edges and a “Flash-y” feel. Everything scrolls on separate planes, allowing for a constant motion that fits well with the subject matter. The scenery is beautiful, shifting from mountains to waterfalls, ice and snow to lush forests. It’s worth watching others play just to take it all in.
Aurora is designed to be played locally with others, utilizing split-screen and WiiMotes to allow up to 5 people (one with the Gamepad) to play. There are a few multiplayer modes, but they’re mostly predicated on one bird being chased by others. It’s a solid group experience once everyone masters flight, and even though simple by nature it can easily lead to an hour or two disappearing. But the experience only really excels when there are 4-5 people in the room together, which in my case is nearly impossible. I was only able to get one session in, and though it lasted 45 minutes or so it will be difficult to repeat outside of a few family gatherings around the holidays.
The game’s single-player mode consists of a series of timed tracks, and playing through them really only serves the purpose of honing flight skills more than anything else. I haven’t gone back to it since my first run through.
Chasing Aurora can be a wonderful experience if someone has regular access to a large group of friends and a free night. For those of us who don’t, its lack of single-player content or online multiplayer leave us with little to do. It’s a pretty game, and the mechanics of flight do a good job of feeling like how I dreamed they would, but in the end I just don’t think that it offers any place to really fly to.
This review is based on a copy of the the game purchased by the reviewer. Chasing Aurora is available on the Nintendo Wii U eShop for $14.99. It is rated E.