The Aero Fighters series (in Japan, Sonic Wings), are vertical-scrolling shoot 'em up arcade games from the 90s. Aero Fighters games existed mostly in the Arcades and Neo Geo consoles, but some of them were also released on consoles. The main games from the series are Aero Fighters, Aero Fighters 2 and Aero Fighters 3. There's also Sonic Wings Special (called Sonic Wings Limited in the arcade version) that is a game that combines the features from 1, 2 and 3. A slight mention must be done also to Aero Fighters Assault (in Japan, Sonic Wings Assault) that is an arcade style combat flight simulator using 3D graphics released for the Nintendo 64.
This game has very simple shooter mechanics, yet it's so addictive because of its non stop action. Pressing button 1 will fire your normal weapon, that varies according to the character you select. This introduces a slight level of variation and strategy here. The character's ship can be upgraded by collecting the P power-ups or the rare F power-up that gives you instant maximum power. Button 2 is used to fire a special attack that is devastating and very powerful and can get you out of sticky situations. You have a limited use of these and can increase them by collecting the B items. Some enemies will drop score items when destroyed that, interestingly, appear as the currency of the selected character's nation. The amount of characters you have available varies according to the game, but rest assured there are several characters from several nations to choose from, going from 8 in the first game (4 for player one and 4 for player 2) and 10 in the third game (5 for player one and 5 for player 2).
Your objective is to shoot down enemies that cross your path and from time to time, shoot down a boss. The difficulty increases as you progress from level to level. Just as I like, the action is non stop, with a rain of bullets on the screen, from which you have to dodge while engaging your enemies. These are games from the 90s so don't expect amazing quality graphics by today's standards, but they do their job well. The game is colorful, the sound effects are nice and there's a lot of movement and animations on the screen.
The plot is very simple. Alien forces are trying to take over the earth and you have to defend the planet. For a shoot 'em up, story isn't the most important thing. But playability is and the Aero Fighters series sure is a pleasure to play. The games have some silliness to them. The characters from which you select look kinda funny and the enemy aliens include a giant eye, a monkey and a ghost, among others. But honestly, besides great gameplay, this silly humor is one of the things that keeps me coming back to play some more.
Unlike many previous shoot 'em ups that when you die you have to start that level from the beginning, if you die in the Aero Fighters series, you continue from right where you died. This makes for a much less frustrating game. It's a great casual game to play with a friend. In the arcade version, if you loose all your lives, just use another credit to continue and you can keep playing until you reach the end. Overall, there's not a lot that sets the Aero Fighters series of games apart from other vertical-scrolling shoot 'em ups, but all the elements that make for a nice shoot 'em up are present and that's what matters when you are playing this genre. These are classics that anyone that likes retro arcade games should play at least once, as they are more fun and addictive than they might seem at a first glance. Give them a shot! ;)