Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and if that’s indeed the case, then Airoheart is one of the most sycophantic releases on the Switch today. There’s certainly no shortage of “Zelda-likes” available on the console, but this is a game that stretches the term “inspired by” to its absolute limits, as it finds as many ways as possible to be The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past without really getting Nintendo to release its famous copyrighted ninjas for damage control. Therefore, fans of that top-down Zelda style will no doubt find a lot to like here, as Airoheart does an adequate job of presenting a broad linear action-adventure experience, but more often than not it feels like watching a funhouse mirror reflection rather than the real deal.
Airoheart takes place in the imaginary land of Engard and follows the story of two conflicting groups: the Elmers and the Bretons. The Elmers are masters of peaceful forms of magic while the Britons are proficient in more offensive and violent magical abilities, and there has been tension between the two groups for as long as can be remembered. Your character, a half-Breton named Airoheart who lives among the Elmers with his grandfather, is the brother of a Breton chieftain who instigates increasingly aggressive maneuvers against the Elmers in what appears to be a prelude to war. . He seems more interested, however, in retrieving the fragments of the mythical Stone of Draoidhe, a magical MacGuffin that will all but guarantee a quick victory for the Britons. Guided by a mysterious disembodied voice, Airoheart then sets out on a quest to recover the fragments before the Breton can get his hands on them.
It’s not a terribly involving story, but it does take things in a deeper and darker direction than the typical “saving the princess” tale. The eponymous hero is supported in his quest by a diverse cast of characters from both sides who help add color to the slower parts between dungeons, and while we didn’t find this story particularly memorable, we can appreciate the effort that gave the Pays d’Engard a more nuanced social system that adds more texture to your dungeon.
The gameplay in Airoheart takes strongly after A Link to the Past, follow the same basic gameplay loop of traveling between dungeons, collecting new items and abilities, and exploring an overworld filled with secrets to uncover. The main gameplay innovation here is the inclusion of Runes, which are selectable spells you can cast using mana that will create effects like light healing or a moving block to help solve puzzles. In practice, runes are just a different name for another set of items available to you, but their uses are distinct enough to make it seem like their differentiation from the standard item pool is warranted.
When you’re not in dungeons, you’ll likely be busy testing out new toys to unlock new paths and caves to explore, or spending time buying or trying out new gear that slightly mixes up your stats. We didn’t think the gear and stat system were enough to qualify Airoheart as an RPG, but small buffs to, say, damage from your crossbow bolts make a difference every now and then. The overworld also seems dense enough with worthwhile purposes. It’s not the kind of game with a lot of nothing between points of interest to give you an idea of the scope; each cave and grotto usually has something meaningful to discover and you can’t take more than a few steps in any direction without finding something else of interest.
Although you spend much of your time exploring the overworld, dungeons are the main draw of the experience here, and each contains a potent thematic mix of challenging puzzles and satisfying enemy encounters to overcome. That said, the lack of a localized map to help you navigate feels like an unnecessary handicap. Checking the map will only tell you where you are in the outside world, which is about as useful as asking someone where the bathroom is and asking them to tell you what city you’re in. currently find. The dungeon design is simplified enough that you don’t waste too lots of time trying to find the right path, and the challenges you face along the way are decently fun, but it’s things like a nonexistent dungeon map that tend to cut the wind from Airoheart’s sails. He’s got potential, and with a few changes he could be great, but he’s more content with just being good.
And that’s the problem with Airoheart; it is good, but just feels like a less polished copy of a much better game. There’s nothing wrong with taking after the formula of a well-regarded classic, but simply repackaging the ideas of one with just the tweaks the subtlest ones here and there doesn’t make for a must-do experience. Even when Nintendo itself returned to the well with A Link Between Worlds, it was careful to include some big gameplay innovations, with a more flexible approach to the item system as well as quality of life changes like a bar filler magic. Airoheart simply feeds on your desire to play more of a 30-year-old game you already own and can easily access on Switch, without adding any significant new ideas of its own. This is your group project member’s version of the game that throws their name on the slideshow without contributing anything substantial to the content.
Airoheart doesn’t spoil any of the broad strokes of its game design, but a lack of attention to small details accumulates to make it less satisfying overall. For example, there’s a simply confusing overuse of an extremely loud and sudden gunshot sound effect that often feels out of place. When the bombs go off it sounds like an appropriate noise, but it’s much more unpleasant whenever you get hit, fire a crossbow, close a door, roll over a pit (!?), open a trunk or to breathe. You get used to it over time, but it’s so boring and frankly weird presence throughout this, it actually slows down the whole game to some extent. Little things like this aren’t downright overwhelming on their own, but there are a lot of them and their presence is like a fly in your soup; easily removed, but bothersome and unpleasant if left in.
We also encountered bugs and glitches, some of which were kind of funny, most of which are a nuisance. For example, after dying to the final boss of a dungeon, we had several times where we respawned at the start of the dungeon with zero health, which meant that Airoheart had spilled again right there. We’ve also observed many instances where traps firing timed projectile attacks were slipping and some of the projectiles were getting stuck in the trap’s hitbox. The worst of these was the game returning squarely to the home screen, requiring a full restart and having to retrace our steps to make up for lost data. Hopefully some fixes will come, but in its current state you’ll almost certainly run into some kind of glitch or technical issue that will hamper your journey.
As for its presentation, Airoheart does not hesitate to raise the visual style of A Link to the Past wholesale. Everything from the color palettes to the character spritework to the shape of the rocks you can pick up to throw at enemies could almost be mistaken for direct asset tears. things become little more creative here or there, but we would have liked to see more effort to differentiate Airoheart and give it more of its own identity. Nothing looks like wrongbut sometimes this lack of originality makes you feel like you’re playing a ROM hack.
The music, meanwhile, is far less memorable, consisting of a series of generic, repetitive 16-bit chiptunes that are just kind of the. At the very least, this soundtrack doesn’t get in the way of the enjoyment of the game, but it feels like there’s been a missed opportunity here to incorporate sound that could elevate and help shape the overall experience in a greater measure.
Airoheart is a passable game, but hardly one we’d recommend rushing to buy unless you just can’t get enough of the 2D Zelda formula. It follows the pattern of A Link to the Past so closely that it could never be classified as “bad”, but in a market crowded with homages, homages and variations on the theme, it doesn’t really stand out. . We suggest that you only pick up after you’ve played A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening Remake, and both Blossom Tales games, and you still don’t think you’ve had enough of this specific brand of top-down gameplay. Airoheart offers an adequate adventure, and for $40 at the time of writing, we just expect more.