Wii U’s Chasing Aurora is grounded in single-player, but soars with friends
- Wii U
Chasing Aurora is one of the first download-only games on the Wii U Eshop. Out of the five present, it’s one of two games that’s not a sequel and not adapted from earlier material. Chasing Aurora is also the only title that meets the above criteria and allows for multiplayer. So how does ones of Nintendo’s first downloadable exclusives, which sells for $15, hold up? It depends on what you’re looking for.
Cried the raven
You choose to play as one of five birds in Chasing Aurora: Fex the vulture, Ruth the owl, Fink the hummingbird, Solitude the crane, and Storm the bluejay/crow; it’s hard to tell with that last one. Actually, it can be hard to tell with all of the aforementioned birds. Chasing Aurora evokes imagery of origami with its art direction in both the birds and levels, and though simple and stylized, it’s crisp, original, and very pretty to look at.
The simplistic design carries over to the game’s controls as well. There are only three actions to perform: dive your bird, flap your wings, or drop the gem, if you’re holding it. Your bird is controlled with the thumbsticks on the GamePad or the D-pad on the Wii Remote. Whichever method you choose, flying feels great – like a smooth glide across calm waters.
Note: be cautious of marathons. My friends and I each longed for the opportunity to use the Wii U GamePad, not because we wanted the unique game play experience, but because our thumbs grew exceptionally sore from use of the Wii Remotes.
Speaking of friends, you’ll want some if you’re going to play Chasing Aurora. While there is a single-player mode called Challenge Mode, it’s basic. You fly through a level, following a track of beams which grant points each time you pass through them. Your goal is to pass through as many beams as possible before time expires, with every ten beams upping your score multiplier and increasing the amount of time you have on a given level. Scores are recorded at the end of a run, but there’s no online leaderboard, and you can’t separate score by Wii U user.
There’s a definite feeling of nostalgia for anyone who played NiGHTS, as the mode feels very similar to the Saturn game. The biggest downside is how restrictive it feels. In Challenge Mode, you literally fly in circles until the end of time, chasing your own tail.
There is also a sort of free-fly mode, where you’re allowed to flit about as you please before starting up a mode. I was reminded of Ecco The Dolphin, and his play time at sea. It can feel almost therapeutic, making your bird soar across the horizon, diving and swooping. So why wasn’t this fleshed out? Why take the freedom of flight and constrain it to a narrow path? After the heated exchanges of multiplayer, it feels wonderful to sit back and watch the birds swoop and dive, but it would have been nice if this could be experienced without pretense.
Meanwhile, multiplayer game play is broken up into several “tournaments,” where the birds compete in three different types of games. In Hide & Seek, the player with the GamePad has their character turned into the Golden Bird and carries a special gem. The Golden Bird earns points by protecting the gem and keeping it away from the other birds, while they earn points by capturing and holding onto the gem. In Freeze Tag, the player with the GamePad becomes an Ice Bird. Whenever the Ice Bird touches another bird, it freezes them, gaining points. Other players must either evade or un-freeze their teammates by flying into them to earn points. Finally, in Chase, all players rush to find and hold onto the level’s gem. The camera locks onto the gem, and any bird off-screen for more than three seconds loses one of their three lives.
These games are hectic fun with three or more people, and there will be tense matches. You will have many near-misses, where you just barely escape being grazed by the Ice Bird, or alternatively, just missed nabbing the gem. The clock can seem to take forever when you need to hide, but rush by when you’re out hunting for your fellow fowl.
Chasing Aurora isn’t a huge game, and it doesn’t need to be. It wants you to feel like a bird, and in that respect it succeeds. It’s addicting to ride the wind currents around each of the game’s lovely levels, and it just feels right when you flap your bird’s wings to propel them forward or bring their wings close to make them dive. It’s unfortunate the world isn’t opened up to explore and that single-player can feel so tedious, but multiplayer feels great.
It’s impressive how bird-like Chase can make you feel; it’s hard not to be mesmerized by a swarm of frantic birds trying to steal that precious, shiny gem. It’s great to see something so different for games, yet familiar, even if it means evil glares at your friends and some incredibly sore thumbs.