AER: Memories of Old tries to be both an effective puzzle platform adventure, and an emotional narrative journey – all with a bit of flying thrown in. Without giving too much away, AER sees you play as Auk, a female protagonist who is tasked with restoring order to the fractured sky-dwelling Land of the Gods.
After an initial bit of platforming in a temple (where you’ll likely have to head straight for the camera settings to correct the wild flailing panning of it), Auk arrives outside to discover the world of floating islands, and the player discovers her ability to morph into a bird and fly from place to place, solving the mysteries of the realm’s temples.
The moments AER is at its best come from some of its more elaborate puzzles, and when you’re allowed to soar freely through the skies, the game is at its nadir. The swell of the music as you swoop and glide among the clouds is fitting. This is the game at its most transcendent, a wholly peaceful, calming experience that matches the silken flow of movement found in the likes of thatgamescompany’s masterpiece Journey. While it is implemented into the odd puzzle (flying through rings to trigger a temple door for example), it’s otherwise just there as a means of island hopping.
The artstyle is immediately striking, in the sense that it recalls a few games of similar style, notably Tequila Works’ RiME, albeit a touch simpler. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, there’s certainly enough of a difference between the way the two operate for a start, but conversely, it doesn’t help AER feel like it has its own visual identity, and RiME wasn’t exactly a wholly unique game itself. It’s pretty, in a basic way, but it only ever flashes its beauty the players way in fits and starts.
The meat of AER is in its exploration, there’s a decent amount of zones within the world map, some holding little secrets, others holding the all important items you’ll need to complete your quest. The game is pretty discreet with its guidance and coaxing, which made for some initial confusion about where exactly to go.
Even with understanding later on, it still felt like a case of simply flying about, spotting something of interest, and stumbling upon something useful. I get the way it’s supposed to be interpreted, as a throwback to the increasingly popular ambiguous objective era of adventure titles, but the execution isn’t quite there. Quite simply, outside the temples, there’s very little to interact with, save a few glorified text logs, and the result is that AER often feels light and uninvolving.
Onto the puzzling and the platforming then, and while platforming is a mostly a fiddly, floaty source of irritation, the large scale room puzzles found in temples and caves are arguably the standout feature of AER (the flying of course, being the other contender). At first, they are fairly simple find the switch kind of things, but the key temples have multiple, interconnected puzzles spanning several rooms, and while it isn’t always clear what the next move is, it never felt unfair.
During these puzzles, which incorporate platforming to some degree, you complete one to open up a room to the next, and upon, finishing them all, find they connect together to open the important final door where your reward awaits. There’s nothing particularly clever about any of the individual parts, but the way they are brought together is. Each one takes up around 20-40 minutes to finish, and sadly, there aren’t many of them.
The reason for cracking these temples isn’t much motivation. It’s a fairly standard ‘ancient evil threat, restore order’ sort of plot, and there’s little contained in the text logs and limited cutscenes to really invoke the emotional response the game is aiming for. This means the ending did nothing for me beyond a mere ‘oh, okay, cool’ and a shrug. The look of the Land of the Gods may be appealing, but too much of it feels like fancy set dressing rather than a part of the story. Still, the flying is nice.
As critical of AER as I’ve been so far, it’s by no means a terrible game, if anything it’s a perfectly competent, and occasionally entertaining adventure. It’s just that so much of what it does has been done before, recently and better. There’s no denying that its flying and puzzles are what make it worthwhile, but the rest is either bang average or overly fussy (the on-foot controls especially). You won’t hate AER after finishing it, but you won’t feel particularly great about it either.