Flying is a difficult concept to get right in video games. Much like how underwater levels are invariably the worst part of a platformer, the free movement of flying often changes up the formula too much, allowing for a great deal of clumsiness. That flying through space in Accel feels as polished and smooth as the genre-defining Starfox 64, then, is impressive. A student project from pupils attending French game design school Objectif 3D, Accel provides a challenging but satisfying test for the reflexes.
The world of Accel is set in a not-so-distant future, where humanity is on the verge of extinction due to a terrible war. To save the last few remaining souls, the minds of the populous are uploaded to ACCEL, a super computer with Matrix-like capabilities. Although their safety is now assured, the people quickly grow bored, no danger and excitement left in their lives. A select few thrill-seekers upload their minds to space ships to explore the abandoned earth, darting and weaving between the dilapidated buildings. With the danger of death now imminently present, the adrenaline junkies finally feel they are living once again.
Swift reflexes are the focus of Accel, as weaving the ship through corridors, lasers, shifting walls, and spinning tunnels requires a deft hand. Unlike Starfox, which is a clear inspiration, the game features no combat, allowing the player to fully focus on navigating the intricate moving parts of each stage. The controls for Accel are deceptively simple: on gamepad, the control stick is used for movement, and the triggers are used to rotate the ship left or right. Rotating the ship makes the whole screen tilt 45 degrees, which takes a bit of getting used to. This spinning movement might prove Accel to not be suitable for those who are prone to motion sickness, but I found after the initial queasiness, my stomach settled down pretty quickly.
Helping guide the player through the level are colourful circles which, when collected, add to the all-important high score, with a rank of C or higher unlocking the next stage. Flying smoothly will slowly increase both ship speed and score multiplier, with a collision slowing down the ship and resetting the multiplier to zero. This system creates a beautiful difficulty curve, with talented play smoothly increasing difficulty, and mistakes slowing things down and allowing time to learn the course for the next attempt. To make this game frustratingly difficult by requiring no collisions or extremely high scores to progress would have been easy, but the balance is just right. Getting a C rank still took a decent amount of work, but it always felt achievable. Plenty of challenge is available to more hardcore players too, with the highest ranks and Steam achievements requiring some extremely precise flying.
Accel‘s three levels ramp up the challenge smoothly, adding new locales and obstacles with each map. The neon city streets of the first level give way to tight rotating tunnels in the second, and factory-like pistons in the third. On occasion, seeing what is and is not an obstacle can be difficult, particularly in the second stage which has a constant kaleidoscope of colourful barriers. The disco-ball wall near the end of the level got me nearly every time. These levels are all about practice and learning the course, however, so some lack of readability on a first pass can be forgiven. The third level is extremely readable, on the other hand, which is helpful given the increased difficulty. I would have liked more levels—maybe just one more locked behind a very high score to encourage replaying the game—but what is here is extremely well designed. When things are going well, ship smoothly dodging every obstacle, the game feels incredibly satisfying. The tight hit detection also means any mistakes feel fair, although collecting the score circles could be a touch more forgiving.
A big part of Accel‘s charm is its amazing soundtrack, an upbeat collection of ’80s style synth wave, dubstep, and techno tracks, with the occasional guitar solo thrown in for good measure. In a game where levels are going to be repeated a lot, an appealing soundtrack goes a long way in easing any frustration that might set in, and this one does the job with ease. If the developers were considering adding a payment option, selling the soundtrack as a DLC could be a smart choice.
Accel is also graphically appealing, with a wide variety of environments and a silky smooth framerate. While readability can occasionally be an issue, most of the time the levels are a pleasure to look at, an explosion of colour and rippling surfaces. The structure of the levels ebb and flow in time with the music, a lovely synchronicity that draws the player further in.
A few minor UI issues take away from the otherwise high polish of the game. The text explaining the story at the start of the game goes by way too fast, even for a fast reader like myself; I had to enter and exit the game several times to get the full message. Adding in a button prompt to continue the story, or keeping the text in a separate section in the menu for the player to read at their leisure, might be a better option. Gamepad support is great in game, but a bit iffy in the menus. Determining which option is selected is difficult as the highlighted box is only a touch darker than the other options. At the end of a run, selecting options with the gamepad also faces problems, as none of the buttons are mapped to hit the ‘ok’ button. The gamepad can use the pause button to go back to the main menu, but high scores are not saved if this method is used, leading to issues such as missing out on unlocking the next level.
Accel is such a lovely example of an arcade flying game, a genre that is not seen enough these days. The controls are tight, level design is clever, and that soundtrack will be stuck in my head for the days to come. Keep an eye out for the graduates of Objectif 3D; I am sure they are destined for great things.
Next week, we will be playing Break Arcade Games Out, a game that imagines a world where all arcade hits were a variant on Break Out. The game can be downloaded from Steam here. Chats are happening in the Discord server, or you can email me if you prefer.