Speedrunning has been an integral part of the gaming community for decades. People might lean on glitches or exploits to ‘break’ a game, but often it’s simply a case of learning the mechanics, inside and out, to nail down the most efficient route from A to B. Aeon Drive is all about speedrunning; that’s its hook, and it’s a good one.
Taking place within the cyberpunk setting of ‘Neo Barcelona’, the game stars Jackelyne, a space ranger who is on a desperate race through the city to find the drive cores to fix her ship. Armed with a sword and teleportation dagger, you must guide Jackelyne through a vast variety of levels, all of which sport differing routes with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Racing through the levels is quite enough as it is, but the game immediately encourages you to move as quickly as possible by implementing a 30-second timer in each level. If the timer reaches zero, then it’s game over and you’ll need to start over (a trifling inconvenience thanks to the small scale of the levels and the zippy loading speeds). Thankfully, to offset the countdown, you can pick up egg timers scattered throughout the levels; if you’re quick enough and manage to pick up 5 in a row, you can activate their power and immediately add 5 seconds back onto your timer. Sounds like a small, insignificant boost in theory, but when you’re just a few feet away from your end goal, those extra seconds make all the difference.
While the supporting narrative in Aeon Drive is merely a distraction at best, the gameplay showcased here is an absolute joy once you get to grips with everything. There’s a bit of a learning curve at first; you’ll need to master jumping, sliding, swinging your sword, and chucking your teleportation dagger at the correct time in order to maintain any semblance of speed and momentum. It’s a lot to take in, but once each mechanic lands and becomes a simple part of your muscle memory, you’ll be dashing through the stages with ease.
The teleportation dagger is ultimately what sets Aeon Drive apart from other speedrunning platformers. Essentially, you throw it at any wall within range by tapping ‘A’ along with your intended direction on the analogue stick, and it will stay locked in place until you tap ‘A’ again to teleport over to your dagger; kind of like a futuristic grapple hook. Using the dagger lets you bypass obstacles like deadly lasers and bottomless drops, but it also adds an incredible feeling of momentum, particularly when you manage to throw it in just the right place at the right time, letting you effectively skip a good chunk of the stage in one quick motion. It’s incredibly satisfying.
Although Jackelyne is pretty nimble on her feet, she’s nevertheless extremely vulnerable to enemy damage and obstacles. Getting hit just once sends you right back to the start of the level, so not only do you need to complete each stage in the fastest time possible, but you also need to do it in one perfect run. Naturally, it’s vital that you learn each stage like the back of your hand if you’re to climb the online leaderboards, including the placement of enemies, the optimum place to throw your dagger, whether you can jump over a particularly long gap, and plenty more. The replay value here is obvious, particularly if you’ve got a competitive, compulsive nature.
Visually, the game is absolutely beautiful, too, with gorgeous pixel graphics displaying a good level of detail in the levels and their respective backgrounds. There’s little variety with the overall aesthetic beyond different colour palettes, but we’d argue that anything more would risk distracting from the gameplay. There’s a bit of added customisation to Jackelyne’s own colour palette — mainly for when you play in the optional multiplayer mode — but there’s little incentive to choose a specific colour if you’re playing on your own (we often went with the yellow-haired option; she looks like a Super Saiyan, okay?!).
Speaking of multiplayer, the story mode lets up to four people play through the game in co-op, with an additional PvP mode pitting you against up to three local competitors. Unfortunately, local play is the only option at the moment, but online play is on the way via a future update. The good news, though, is the game’s performance is pretty much flawless whether you’re playing on your own or with friends, with rock solid frame rates and minimal load times throughout.
Our final shout out goes to the game’s excellent soundtrack. The cyberpunk vibes are evident in the music — which bears more than a passing resemblance to Purturbator’s work — with sweeping synth notes and booming bass lines. It’s really great stuff and a perfect accompaniment to your perfect, second-shaving runs.
Aeon Drive isn’t quite up there with modern platforming classics like Celeste, but it’s pretty darn close nevertheless. While its narrative won’t win any awards, this is simply a supporting backdrop to the fantastic gameplay on offer. Bolstered by solid performance and minimal loading screens, racing through the levels feels exhilarating as you jump, slide, and teleport your way through the maze-like environments. With an online leaderboard to satisfy your competitive nature and added multiplayer to boot, Aeon Drive is a speedrunning triumph that absolutely deserves your attention.