Air Guitar Warrior is a unique side-scrolling rock-em-up by independent Kinect developer Virtual Air Guitar Company, developed exclusively for Xbox One, in which you use Kinect 2 to play air guitar to destroy a wide range of enemies using various ammo such as fireballs, lasers and lightning across varied environments contained within 10 different albums in a quest to find the legendary sword-guitar and challenge Heavy Metal Zeus for the top spot in the temple of the rock gods!
It’s like a cross between Guitar Hero and classic arcade shoot-em-ups. If you’re concerned about the “Guitar Hero” comparison don’t worry, this isn’t a rhythm-action game where you’re required to play the right parts at the right time to progress in the game, you’re free to play air guitar how you like and all your strumming skill affects is the music. I’ll give further explanation later in the “Sound” section of the review.
Air Guitar Warrior Gameplay Montage.
Video coming soon. (Check back in a day or two.)
The hand you hold the neck of the guitar with and the hand you use to strum with depends on whether you are left or right handed and you can choose left-handed mode or right-handed mode when you start the game. Most of the screenshots and I think all of the videos released by the developer actually show the left-handed mode, whereas my video shows me playing right-handed which actually puts the player on the right side of the screen shooting towards the left side.
In levels where you’re riding steeds such as the robotic (or cyborg?) T-Rex you are in a fixed position on screen and aim your shots by aiming the neck of the guitar at the enemies. Whereas when you’re riding steeds such as the giant eagle you move the steed up & down the screen when you tilt the guitar up & down and the shots come from the front of your steed. Those shots are the same as whichever guitar you have chosen for the level.
You have 4 playing/shooting styles for each guitar plus Bend Power:
- Slow Rhythm – Hold further along the neck of the guitar with your aiming hand and strum slowly on-beat with your other hand. This fires a slow but powerful and more spread out shot.
- Fast Rhythm – Hold further along the neck of the guitar with your aiming hand and strum quickly with your other hand. This fires a medium speed, power and spread shot.
- Slow Lead – Hold the base of the neck of the guitar, very close to your strumming hand, with your aiming hand and strum slowly on-beat with your other hand. This fires a slow but powerful and medium-spread shot.
- Fast Lead – Hold the base of the neck of the guitar, very close to your strumming hand, with your aiming hand and strum quickly with your other hand. This fires a very fast but weak and thin shot.
- Bend Power – You get Bend Power after completing the second album and to activate it you simply bend backwards while playing. This doubles your fire rate for a short time and is recharged after shooting enough enemies.
During the first 4 levels of each album the ammo for each shot-type is limited, however it recharges fairly quickly, you don’t have to collect more ammo. Fortunately you have unlimited ammo for the boss levels.
You start off Air Guitar Warrior with just 1 guitar, the Flaming Chord which shoots small fireballs, but recieve a new guitar after each album. After you’ve got more than one guitar you can select any of the guitars you’ve collected during a guitar select screen before each level, you’re not restricted to just the last guitar you collected. Other guitars include the GTR-8000 which shoots pink lasers, the Spectral Axe which shoots green glowing axes and spirits, the Thunder Axe which shoots lightning and of course ultimately the trophy of your quest, the legendary guitar-sword called “The Legend” which has a special ability that I won’t spoil here.
Your health in the game is represented by a life-bar which gets depleted whenever an enemy either crashes into you itself or shoots you if it’s a shooting enemy. When the bar is fully depleted you die and although the game appears to have unlimited continues you do have to replay the level you died on from the start. Fortunately you can shoot enemy shots, or if the shot is about to hit the upper part of your body you can duck it. The shot dodging, along with the Bend Power, adds a little bit more full-body motion control to a game that’s otherwise mostly a standing still experience that you just use your hands and arms to control.
Finally for this section I’ll mention the album covers. After you beat each boss you can pose for the cover of the album you just completed. This is just like posing for the comic panels in Kung Fu: High Impact/Kung Fu For Kinect, except you get no direction on how you should pose, you just pose however you like. I think that the developer should have given players at least have the option to pose with one of the in-game guitars though. If you have a real guitar then you could have that near you so you could pick it up and pose with it for the album cover if you want of course. Or any other real object you want to pose with.
Air Guitar Warrior’s Kinect controls work pretty much perfectly with no noticeable lag. Occasionally there were times where the “wrong” shot was selected for a second, but that could have just been fatigue causing imprecise movement and timing from me due to my health issues. Having more complex controls than simply aim and shoot one type of shot with one hand gesture really elevates Air Guitar Warrior from being just a simple side-scrolling shoot-em-up that could have been played using a joypad into a far more fun, challenging and even creative game.
Air Guitar Warrior technically has 50 levels currently, split over 10 albums with the 5th level of each album being a boss level and each album’s levels last between around 1.5 to 2.5 minutes. I say technically as the game only allows you to play Normal Mode until you’ve completed all 50 levels, then Expert Mode unlocks. So you sort of have 100 levels overall, but Expert Mode’s 50 levels are the same levels as Normal Mode just harder. And I say currently because Virtual Air Guitar Company are planning to release an update soon that adds a bonus level if you complete the game on Expert Mode, which adds to the replayablity of the game as it gives you an incentive to complete Expert Mode if you usually only play a game on one difficulty setting then move on to something else. This bonus level will be a special music-focused level where you play a guitar duet with Heavy Metal Zeus!
The game starts with the album “Road To Devastation” which has post-apocalyptic-themed environments and the first level is a tutorial. Other albums include Vikings On The Storm, which features both on and under the sea themed environments with you riding a viking ship in the levels that take place on the sea. Wilderness Years, which includes both bamboo forest and jungle themed environments. Ancients Awaken, which has Egyptian themed environments with hieroglyphics and sarcophagi. And Electric Candyland, where the environments are sweet themed and full of candyfloss, chocolate and lollipops, as well as unicorns and rainbows.
Other than wishing that they were a couple of minutes longer, my only criticism of the levels environment-wise is that they just scroll in a straight line. I think it might have made the game even more interesting if the levels scrolled along a less linear path with maybe some scenery to avoid and even parts where the path branched so you would have to choose the top or bottom path on-the-fly or something like that.
There’s quite a wide variety of enemies in Air Guitar Warrior and they’re mostly related to the themes of the albums and levels, often with multiple enemy-types per level and always multiple enemy-types per album. The enemies include flaming demon skulls, things that are either cybernetic aliens or spaceships (but different from the classic UFOs that are also in the game), green glowing ghostly viking helmets and swords (separately), fish, pharaoh heads, pumpkins, ghosts and one-eyed creatures with bat wings, just to name a few.
As mentioned earlier, most of the enemies just try to crash into you, but some of the enemies can shoot at you. Enemies sometimes carry metal shields, which require the slow rhythm or slow lead shots to destroy, whereas other times they might be surrounded by forcefields, which recharge quickly and require either fast lead shots or Bend Power to destroy. The enemies often speed towards you (moreso after the first couple of albums) in various formations and movement patterns, plus it’s not that long into the game before the enemies start filling up the screen and the gameplay gets pretty frantic!
Also as I mentioned earlier, the 5th level of each album is a boss level. Each boss relates to the theme of each album. So, for example, the first boss you encounter at the end of the “Road To Devastation” album is a giant flaming demon skull, the “Vikings On The Storm” album boss is a giant green glowing viking ghost with an axe, the “Ancients Awaken” album boss is a giant robotic version of the ancient Egyptian Sun god Ra and the ultimate boss is of course Heavy Metal Zeus himself. You have to beat each boss before the music track finishes and although the level select tells you how long the tracks are for the bosses there unfortunately isn’t an on-screen timer during the boss fights so you just have to try to beat them as fast as you can. Most of the bosses are quite challenging and have various attacks, with a few patterns to learn for each boss. It also helps if you work out which guitar is best to use against each one.
After each level, except for the boss level, the amount of each enemy type you kill is counted and you’re given a percentage score, which is obviously 100% if you manage to kill all the enemies in that level. As the game progresses it gets a lot more challenging to score 100% in each level and I haven’t managed it myself yet, so this adds to the replayability as I’m sure there are plenty of hardcore gamers out there who will want to complete all the levels with 100% scores.
The first album and first four levels of the second album are very easy and I’m sure most people will complete them without dying. But the difficulty jumps up at the second album’s boss and sort of gets harder as the game progresses, but the difficulty appears to go up and down along the way and some levels just seem a bit too easy. The reason for this could just be that on certain levels I got lucky and happened to select the best guitars for those levels on my first try. So that would actually be a positive thing if the developers have tuned the levels to play best with certain guitars. (No puns intended, lol!)
(Click on pics for larger & less compressed images.)
Air Guitar Warrior uses augmented virtuality, which means the player’s live video image is projected into the game’s computer-generated graphics using Kinect 2’s 1080p camera. The quality of the player’s image depends on the lighting in the room, so if you’ve got decent lighting it looks great. Then on top of this of course is overlayed the guitar graphics. Although the graphics are only 2D, so obviously don’t compare to a game like Gears Of War 4 for example, the enemies and hand painted environments are imaginative, bold, colourful and perfectly crisp with no apparent aliasing. I think it’s running in 1080p at 60fps as far as I can tell (except for the player’s image, as I think Kinect 2 can only capture RGB video at 30fps) and it runs perfectly smoothly no matter how much action is happening on screen.
The sound effects are fine, but what’s really worth talking about is the music. Air Guitar Warrior has 19 great rock tracks created by Samppa Siurala and Mika Tyyskä AKA Mr. Fastfinger (who makes a cameo in cartoon form in the background of one of the levels, so keep your eye out for him!). However, the musical quality of each level actually depends on the air guitar skills of the player! Although the player can’t change the backing music they do somewhat control the lead and rhythm guitar. Somebody could be a great gamer but a lousy air guitar player with bad strumming timing, which would cause their game’s soundtrack to sound worse than someone who is a casual or just generally not very good gamer (or even a non-gamer) but has much better musical ability and strumming skills.
This extra musical twist to the game adds another dimension to it and more replayability as many players will not only want to try to master the shooting controls and get 100% scores on all the levels but also try to master the air guitar playing and get as close to a perfect soundtrack as they can! Unfortunately there’s no scoring or bonuses for playing air guitar well, but the developer told me that’s because they didn’t want players to feel punished if they couldn’t play the musical side of the game well, they just want players to have fun with it.
Here’s another short clip of Mr. Fastfinger playing one of the tracks from the game (I don’t know why it says “TUTORIAL ROUND 2” on the screen):
Air Guitar Warrior is not only a really good game but a great overall experience, because although it’s a side-scrolling shoot-em-up, which there are probably thousands of by now, the Kinect implementation and musical element makes this quite unique and definitely innovative. I can pretty much guarantee that just about anybody of any age would have loads of fun with this, especially after a bit of practice to get into the groove of “playing” the game in both senses of the word. Virtual Air Guitar Company seem to be quite good at making Kinect games that appeal to both casual and core gamers and I can highly recommend this one to both types of gamer as there’s nothing else quite like it on Xbox One or possibly any platform, plus of course it’s another sorely needed Kinect 2 game as things have been far too quiet for us Kinect fans lately. So I think Air Guitar Warrior is worth 8.2 out of 10 and I can’t wait to see what the developer comes up with next!
Air Guitar Warrior is out now exclusively for Kinect 2 for Xbox One via the ID@Xbox self-publishing programme priced at £14.99 (UK) / €18.99 (EU) / $19.99 (US).
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(Please ingore the message below. Air Guitar Warrior is only available on Xbox One NOT Xbox 360 and I received a review code from Virtual Air Guitar Company, it’s not a retail copy. I just don’t know how to change or remove the message.)
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Air Guitar Warrior
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