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iOS Game of the Week: Apple Arcade's Air Twister is a descendant of '80s Sega arcade games, for better and for worse

Princess Arch flying near circus balloons in Air Twister.
Princess Arch flying near circus balloons in Air Twister. (Image credit: Ys Net)

Air Twister has intrigued me since I stumbled across its trailer last month. Developed by YS Net, a studio headed by legendary designer Yu Suzuki of Sega fame, the game is a mishmash of all sorts of aesthetics that I find jarring. Fairytale setpieces mashed into outer space? A blonde-haired princess shoots lasers with a crossbow while riding on a massive swan? A heavily Queen-inspired soundtrack? UI that includes a generic font that reminds me of Runescape? These pieces shouldn't work together; it all feels so loosely tethered in motion.

So when Air Twister finally released on June 24, I had to play it. And I'm here to say: This game rips. I don't think it's great because of its weirdness, however. It's great because of its straightforward arcade-inspired gameplay.

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While Yu Suzuki is most known by his fans as the man behind Shenmue, Air Twister sees him returning to his roots with a game similar to his earlier on-rails shoot 'em up, Space Harrier, along with the third-person flight combat title After Burner. Air Twister might actually be a spiritual sequel to the former, as several enemies from Space Harrier make appearances here, and the shooting feels similar. However, where Space Harrier and Air Twister differ is in speed and, uh, how you can ride large animals. Air Twister is much slower-paced than Space Harrier, making for a more chill experience.

Giant goose Princess Arch rides in Air Twister.

Giant goose Princess Arch rides in Air Twister. (Image credit: Ys Net)

The game shares a lock-on system that Panzer Dragoon fans should be familiar with. Players control Princess Arch, a crossbow-welding warrior who needs to save her planet from destruction (or something like that) and must swipe away and tap at enemies to shoot them. Enemies like stingrays, giant dragonflies, and UFOs appear on screen in formations, and you can auto-target them by swiping across their line-ups. Once you release your finger from a swipe, lasers target those baddies. If you time it right and destroy all enemies before they move off-screen, you'll be rewarded with a star that you can use to get cosmetic, weapon, and health upgrades. You'll also have to drag your finger along the screen to control Princess Arch and avoid incoming bullets.

Princess Arch fighting clock and candlelight bosses.

Princess Arch fighting clock and candlelight bosses. (Image credit: Ys Net)

Air Twister has 12 levels, each ending in a boss battle. So far, the weirdest boss I've encountered is a stack of clocks and a pair of candleholders. They shoot small clocks at you.

There's certainly a rhythm to the game you'll find when playing, which can give it a Rez-like experience, but if you're not a fan of swiping formations away, you can just tap and shoot away. Just keep in mind: A bullet hell this is not, and you won't be super happy trying to replicate that Galaga experience here since it doesn't reward precision shooting as much as timing. If you're interested, the game offers plenty of lore, and you can read all about the backstory of your massive animal friends and those weird floating mushrooms in a dense, in-game world compendium.

A fairytale stage in Air Twister, depicting massive, colorful flowers.

A fairytale stage in Air Twister, depicting massive, colorful flowers. (Image credit: Ys Net)

I've had a blast playing this game with my Backbone and tapping the screen when I need a faster reaction. I also love how crisp the game looks on my iPhone 12, which runs at 60FPS. If you're not into mobile gaming, you can also play it on an Apple TV, Mac, and iPad.

I'm not going to lie and say this game is a must-play for Apple Arcade fans and iOS outsiders. It's definitely a title caked into an arcade archetype that doesn't offer anything new. Despite not having any in-app purchases, the game has plenty of gated items that you unlock by cashing in daily and weekly rewards. You'll spend a lot of time replaying levels, grinding for stars, and dying for the sake of affording new items to help you race to the game's end. I might be in the minority here, but I'm also not a fan of the game's soundtrack by Dutch composer Valensia, which sounds like the result of an algorithm devouring Queen's entire discography.

Still, seeing something this whimsical on Apple Arcade is fantastic. The trailer doesn't really do justice in showing how fun riding on flying elephants while dodging oval laser projectiles and shooting at geometric shapes can be. Air Twister already feels like an Apple Arcade sleeper hit, at home with Sega's arcade output during the '80s but too weird to exist as a new game for home consoles. That's a win in my book.

Kevin Cortez is a culture and product journalist with over nine years of experience. He was most recently the style editor for a leading product-recommendation site, and previously covered the music and podcasting industries at Mass Appeal and The A.V. Club. He has also written for Leafly, Input, Vulture and Genius.