When soaring beneath temple bridges and swan diving through lush valleys, you catch glimpses of what EpiXR Games intended with Aery Broken Memories. The woozy Balearic soundtrack, bloomy lighting and aphoristic narration reflect the vision of the developer to “put a smile on your face and brighten up your day” and I certainly experienced moments of euphoric flow in exploring these angular, dreamlike environments. More often, however, the game shattered this illusion with a series of frustrating design and performance issues.
Taking its cues from Flower and Abzu, with a dash of walking simulator narration, Aery Broken Memories places you in the role of a bird exploring a child’s subconscious mind, searching for shards of memory in order to bring them back from a coma. Without the context of the developer’s blurb, however, it would be very easy to miss this premise entirely. As you make your way through a range of abstract locales, you collect sparkling objects to prompt the next line of an area-themed monologue.
While these occasionally hint at something profound on the value of unfulfilled dreams or the nature of self-motivation, more often than not they come off as inane, such as “imagine being on a boat” or “I love dogs.” Unfortunately, this faux-naïf profundity is far from the game’s biggest misstep. I was initially very impressed with the soundtrack of Aery Broken Memories, and I would still say that this is the glistening highlight of the game with its hazy FM synths, propulsive rhythms and sparkling guitar lines.
They bring both the warmth of soft rock and a skittish dancefloor sensibility to evoke the all-nighter sunrise of a distant island. While I was under the illusion that each stage had its own dedicated theme, I looked forward to replaying the game just to hear certain pieces again. Unable to find the last memory shard in one area, however, I was disappointed to learn that the game plays through its track list on a loop.
If you wait long enough, or struggle to finish the level before the piece of music ends, it will simply fade out and the next one will begin. While the soundtrack remains an enjoyable cohesive whole, this decision does detract from the individual identity of each stage.
Aesthetically, Aery Broken Memories offers a degree of variety, from a pirates’ cove of shipwrecks and palm-lined beaches to a bustling microcosm of a futuristic city, with more abstract terrain along the way, including a snow-capped mountain filled with giant dog statues and a series of floating tropical island structures, reminiscent of Laputa Castle In The Sky. There is plenty of colourful charm to these areas although they do ultimately merge in terms of the atmosphere they create – another downside of the looping soundtrack. More troublesome, however, are the performance issues.
While I have not played the Steam edition of the game, the frame rate on the Switch version is difficult to endure for more than a few levels at a time. When flying with the camera behind the bird the judder is tolerable, but when turning sharply over a period of several minutes, I felt a building motion sickness that made me put the game down for a breather. I very much hope that EpiXR Games continue to work on Switch performance and improve this with a patch.
More difficult to fix, however, is the frustrating moment-to-moment experience of collecting shards. For reasons which I can’t fathom, whenever your bird makes contact with any object in the environment you are instantly reset to the starting position of the level. More than any other issue I have with the game, this exasperating design decision works directly against the core vision of the developers and their intentions. Once the lurching camera is in check and I start to enjoy the blissed-out tunes and visuals, it takes only the brush of a wingtip to shake me out of my Jonathan Livingston Seagull fantasies and plonk me right back down to Earth.
This frustration is exacerbated by the thoughtless placement of many of these memory shards. While they are occasionally aligned with a point of environmental interest, such as a mountain peak or mast of a ship, you will quite often have to fly through a narrow gap in a structure or into a blind alley. This leads to countless moments of frustration where you narrowly miss the unforgiving hitbox of the shard and crash straight into the terrain. Worse still, to my tastes, are those shards which are concealed in the non-descript nooks and crannies reminiscent of the most tortuous collectible achievements.
In spite of the performance issues and soundtrack quirks, Aery Broken Memories could still be an enjoyable and relaxing game were it not for the infuriating reset mechanic and occasionally wearisome shard placement. As it is, I find it difficult to recommend even at this price point. With the developers already working on a sequel, I very much hope that they can address the issues which undermine their otherwise laudable vision.