In its best moments, Chasing Aurora captures the simple joy of flight, that aerodynamic thrill of soaring through the air, gently wafted along by wind currents rippling over outstretched wings. There’s pleasure, too, to be found in the natural momentum of its avian cast: a squeeze of the right trigger prompts a rapid dive to breaks the water’s surface, before a quarter-circle roll of the Wii U GamePad’s analogue stick lifts the bird back out, up, and away.
Sadly, such moments of bliss are rare, as Broken Rules engages in a bizarre act of self-sabotage by clipping the wings of its own systems. A series of time trials is all that awaits the lone player: endless flaps, glides and dives around increasingly intricate circuits, completing laps until time runs out. Pass through successive gates and your multiplier continues to build, a troublesome challenge on stages that see you buffeted with gusts of wind, stalled by falling rocks, and stunned by lightning bolts. It’s frustrating to have your momentum so regularly impeded, yet the barrier for passing a level is so low as to discourage mastery, not least because leaderboards are conspicuous by their absence.
There’s a reason, however, that these challenges are the second option on the menu, as Chasing Aurora’s is first and foremost a multiplayer game. Unlike Nintendo Land, there’s no adjustment for the number of players, and so a game like Freeze Tag – where the GamePad player is tasked with freezing remote users by flying into them – is rendered brief and pointless with two. With four or five, it’s transformed: players stand a greater chance of unfreezing their allies, though the ice bird can easily use a frozen opponent as bait. Suddenly the time spent squeezing through narrow passageways in singleplayer feels less of a waste as you evade your polar pursuer.
The other modes fare less well: Hide And Seek is a poor man’s Mario Chase, while Chase treats the GamePad as a regular controller, as all players fight over a single jewel. There are a range of tournaments that cover each game type, the GamePad swapped between players after each round, though again there’s no consideration for one-on-one play. In a three-stage competition, whoever begins with the extra screen will almost certainly emerge victorious.
It’s a real shame, and a waste of some glorious art: Chasing Aurora’s angular environments are instantly striking, and, in the right hands, the characterful origami birds flap around them with an understated grace. Yet there are problems even here: sluggish loading times tend to cause frame-rate hiccups at the outset of a multiplayer game, and such issues are exacerbated in the busier environments with a full complement of players. It’s perhaps telling that Chasing Aurora is at its most purely enjoyable in the lobby screen before a game begins, where you can swoop, climb and hover to your heart’s content, enjoying the rhythms of flight. Then someone presses start and the spell is immediately, tragically broken.