Taking liberal cues from the Touhou series of shmups, Creaky Lantern Games’ Aeternum tasks players with dodging a metric ton of bullets on their quest for a perfect run. However, this tribute proves to be far more frustrating than fair.
Those familiar with the world of shmups may know what to expect with Aeternum. The goal is the same – shoot down the enemy hordes of teacups, books, anime girls, and more without eating it in the process. However, these games typically offer a fair challenge in the form of careful enemy and bullet placements. This game throws it out of the window by filling the screen with bullets and expecting you to survive. Fans of bullet-heavy “danmaku” shooters may appreciate this added challenge, but the game simply proves to be unfair, even on Normal. There is no rhyme or reason to the bullet patterns, the hitbox for each character is hard to judge, and each boss has multiple phases. The lack of a screen-clearing bomb or something similar makes it that much more frustrating. Dying enough times forces players to start each level over again, and though the game is short, expect to see the same enemies multiple times.
However, the heroines Ellica, CeeBee, and Aubrey have some tricks up their sleeve. A brief shield serves as a respite, and the ability to channel demonic blood to channel enemy life energies via Red Power Tokens is also there. Much like Graze Counter, players can narrowly dodge bullets to increase their Graze score. Players can slow things down by holding the right trigger, but the bullets come fast and heavy. The ability to play without firing a single bullet is there (and is even included as a dedicated mode), but those looking to not tear their hair out will be making good use of the “X” button to stand a fighting chance.
The story of Aeternum is rife with cliches, amateur art, and some downright embarrassing dialog. It’s a simple tale, one about a missing student at the Aeternum Academy. To figure out this mystery, the action is interrupted every few minutes with some goofy dialog that would be right at home on an Invader Zim fan page. It dives into the realm of quirky randomness for the sake of randomness, which will no doubt isolate the majority of its audience. The music can be a little grating as well, coming off as a little more dissonant than carefully crafted.
For those truly dedicated to the game, there is some replayability. In addition to the Story and Arcade modes, there is also the aforementioned Pacifist mode, an Arrange mode, an unlockable character with different dialog, and a Practice mode. The game did crash on me a few times, but your mileage may vary.
Shmups may be known for their challenge, but Aeternum is simply unfair. It may have the basic foundation down, but the execution leaves something to be desired.