Aces of the Galaxy is a decidedly old-school game that harkens back to games like Star Fox and Virtua Cop.
Graphics: This is one of the best looking games released on Xbox Live Arcade. The explosions are bright and brilliant, the textures are shiny and futuristic, and the game throws dozens of enemies at you without ever hitching up or slowing down (unless you use your time-slowing ability). The only possible complaint I have is that the pictures of the enemies you see between levels look pretty stupid, and not even in a campy sort of way. For all the explosions, laser fire, and beautiful looking (as well as beautiful to destroy) enemy ships, I give this game a 9/10 for graphics. It is just too bad that the enemies that taunt you between levels don't look a bit more creative or better drawn.
Gameplay: This game is an on-rails shooter, which means you do not control where you go, but rather follow a set "track", rather like a train. Although you can slightly adjust where you are on the screen and even do barrel-roles (just like Star Fox) in order to evade enemy fire, for the most part you only have to control an aiming reticule and decide what weapons you want to shoot. Although this approach makes the game feel a bit shallow, it is so fast-paced and action-packed that you will rarely have a chance to worry about where you are going, only what enemy needs to be dispatched next. The weapons you have at your disposal are a chain-gun (which doesn't auto-fire, for some strange reason) which is good at taking out smaller enemies, a multi-missile launcher which is good at disposing of large numbers of enemies at once, and a torpedo launcher which is slow-firing but very powerful against larger enemies. With these weapons, you are set on a course (which you can alter between missions if you pick up a certain powerup) through 9 out of a total of 25 levels, the first of which is always the same. These levels have three different themes to them, but ultimately all of them play similarly. Speaking of powerups, beyond the aforementioned warp powerup that lets you choose a different level set when you beat the current one, there is also a powerup that partially heals your ship and powerups that upgrade a certain weapon up to two different power levels, however, you can only upgrade a single weapon at a time, so you have to choose carefully! Another help that you get in fighting the insane number of enemies the game throws at you is the ability to slow down time for a short duration. Although the ability doesn't last long and it takes forever to recharge, it can be a real lifesaver in some of the tougher parts of the game. The only real disappointment in the game is that there are no boss battles. All of the levels play out the same, only getting increasing harder as you go along, but they all end rather abruptly once you have gotten to a pre-decided point. Although some special characters will attack you in the levels, they are more like minor annoyances than real bosses. For being a good old-school game with plenty of action but not much complexity or intense boss fights, I give the gameplay an 8/10.
Sound: This game has more explosions, shooting, whooshing, and general confusion abounding than any game I can think of in recent memory, yet the sound effects all keep pace perfectly and make you really feel like you are in the middle of a huge interstellar war (except for the fact that you would not hear anything in space in reality). Particularly the way your weapons sound ever more menacing as you upgrade them is empowering and gives you an extra incentive to get a weapon up to maximum power. The only complaint I have about the sound is that the odd gibberish you hear the enemies say between levels is hard to make out and doesn't seem to be terribly scary or evil sounding like it should. If they had the enemies actually speak or at least sound a bit more like guttural, evil aliens as opposed to chirping insects or grunting pigs then I could have given the game's sound elements a higher score than 8/10.
Multiplayer: You can play this game in cooperative mode either online or offline and it is quite fun to play with a friend, but don't expect the game to be easier with twice the firepower because the difficulty ramps up nicely when you are playing in cooperative mode. The only complaint I have about the cooperative mode is that it can be quite difficult to tell what is going on when there is even more chaos on screen and two aiming reticules. I found myself constantly forgetting which ship and reticule I was controlling when playing this game cooperatively. If this game had more multiplayer modes or somehow made it easier to tell which ship you were controlling, I would have given this game a higher score than 7/10 for the multiplayer content, but as it stands, it is a fun game to play cooperatively as long as you can keep up with the added amount of chaos.
Final Verdict: Anyone who has fond memories of playing action-packed games back in the late 80's and early 90's should check out this game for a bit of nostalgia. Actually, anyone who loves a fast-paced game that never lets you take a breath should just buy this game right now, because that is exactly what this game offers! If you fall into either of those categories (like me), then you will probably agree with my score of 8/10. Even if you aren't a gamer in your mid 20's or older and aren't an adrenaline junky, you should still take a look at one of the better games released for the Xbox Live Arcade. Unless you have slow reflexes or a heart condition, you won't be sorry!