There’s a lot going on in Air twister. The arcade-style shooter from legendary designer Yu Suzuki is out today on Apple Arcade, pushing players through a strange fantasy world filled with armored birds, flying squids, skeletal dragons, floating cities and evil clocks. For Suzuki, who is best known for his work at Sega for games like space harrier† Shenmueand Virtua Fighter, it was a chance to build a fantasy universe filled with things he loved. “It’s an amalgamation of all the different things I’d like to see in a fantasy world,” he says. The edge†
air shifter is a classic rail shooter — think space harrier or Panzer Dragoon – where players take on the role of a sci-fi princess fighting to save her home world. It has 12 stages, which are relatively short but packed with enemies and punctuated by massive boss battles. It feels like a long lost Dreamcast game, but with the modern addition of touch controls; you can mark swarms of enemies with your fingertips to fire off a volley of attacks. It is very satisfying.
The gameplay is solid, but the most striking thing about it air shifter is his downright bizarre world. You begin to float over a vast ocean with huge mushrooms growing out of it before moving on to stages with a bald moon, a stark mechanical lair, a gigantic garden filled with impossibly huge roses and topiaries, and a desert full of deadly flying Mantas.
Suzuki describes worldbuilding as a ‘collage’ of ideas, citing influences such as the artist Michael Parkes and the movie The never ending story† “At first it seems like they don’t fit together, and as I put these parts together, I didn’t really think about how they would fit together in this world,” he explains. “For me, they just fit naturally.” Part of the making of this work, he says, focused on “the texture and the density and the color” of the landscapes and enemies in rendering the images. “I wanted everything to feel like it was 100 years old,” he explains.
The music was approached in a similar way. air shifter contains a prog rock soundtrack by Dutch composer Valensia; Suzuki says he’s been a fan of the musician for a long time and even “wanted the world to fit his music.” But Suzuki had no connections to help him make contact. So he resorted to a random Facebook post – and it worked. “Once he got a sense of the world we were trying to create, he was all on board,” Suzuki says of Valensia.
Aside from the touch controls, air shifter does make a few concessions for modern players. In the main mode, you can collect stars, which can then be used to unlock new items ranging from cosmetic upgrades like new hairstyles or outfits to really useful gear like a protective shield that kicks in when your health gets low. Considering that air shifter can get quite challenging, this structure is designed to help less skilled players make it to the end.
That said, the game still has a more traditional arcade mode with varying degrees of difficulty. Just like sliding quarters in an arcade cabinet in the ’80s, here you only have your own skills to rely on – which is how Suzuki initially envisioned the experience. “I wanted to make it an old-fashioned arcade game,” he says.