Before Nintendo would begin to embrace the mobile market, they developed some portable games similar to mobile games in the form of DSiware, where small titles simple in design and control were sold digitally for the DS’s slight enhancement the DSi. While there are better games released through this service, one game that truly seems to mirror what you might expect from contemporary phone games of that time is Aura-Aura Climber.
In Aura-Aura Climber, a tiny star named Aura-Aura fell from the sky and is trying to climb back into it, the little spark able to extend a little arm to grab onto objects that are floating in the air to fling itself upward. Controlling Aura-Aura is pretty simple, the player able to control its aerial movement enough to aim it and course correct slightly before extending its limb to snag onto the floating spheres used to propel Aura-Aura higher. Pretty much all Aura-Aura can do is leap between these airborne grappling points, but by timing it correctly its arm will be longer than usual, and along the way Aura-Aura can get pick ups that will extend the length of its limb or give it a special bomb ability that will not only clear away any enemies on screen, but also give it an immediate vertical boost that is good for catching yourself if you miss a leap. Besides a rare invincibility power-up though, you mostly have to rely just on properly jumping around the levels to stay in the game.
There are ten levels total in Aura-Aura Climber, and while they are decent lengths, their small amount means you can finish them all very quickly. Each level is technically just about getting to the very top and snagging onto the moon to complete the level, but Aura-Aura can fail a level in two ways. Stages are timed, meaning you have to get Aura-Aura’s movement style down to finish them in time, but it really isn’t too difficult to understand and most stages have at least one fairly standard path that won’t require anything too flashy or complicated to complete. The other way to do is through Aura-Aura’s health, the little spark having three hearts it can lose through contact with enemies or hazards in the stage, although there are some instant kills along the way to obliterate it immediately as well. You can find hearts in the level to restore lost energy, but taking a hit will also cause your arm upgrades to spill out. Damage is mostly received in areas where you are expected to have good timing, so punishing you for failing that small challenge seems reasonable enough. Some enemies that do move around really crowd around though, their free movement contrasting your limited means and making them a bit of a less fair hassle.
Despite only having ten unique levels to its Score Attack mode, Aura-Aura Climber does offer some light differentiation between them. Nothing ever drastically shifts the idea away from that upwards climb towards the sky, the background even gradually changing to match just how up you’re getting, but the spheres you snag onto start having new properties along the way. Some can launch you high up after you jump from them, others will have Aura-Aura dangle from them like a wrecking ball to swing itself to the next sphere, and there are a few that are related to each other and you need to snag onto each one, possibly in the proper order, to make more spheres appear to keep climbing. The game also makes sure there are a few new obstacles along the way as you progress through stages, hazardous purple electricity turning off and on between jumps, little pink sparks rotating around spheres, and constant yellow electrical fields either serving as impenetrable walls or hazards only invincibility will let you move through. The enemies that chase you down and ones that fire projectiles at you seem a little incompatible at times with the layout of the area ahead of you, but for the most part, the slight variation between levels keeps things from dying out before you reach the end of a pretty short game.
Aura-Aura Climber is short, but it really tries to make its content last by throwing in all kinds of side objectives and different presentations of its content. Score Attack is certainly the game’s main mode where you can pick which stage you want to play, and each stage has a high score table and ranking system to try and motivate you to replay them and do better and better. Score is mostly earned by how many spheres you snag while jumping, but picking up things like health or limb length upgrades, snatching the Bonus UFOs when they fly by, or eliminating enemies with bombs will also add up, as do flashy maneuvers like using the momentum of a jump to swing yourself around onto a sphere. To serve as a sort of final challenge for Score Attack, there’s an option to play stages 1 through 10 in a seamless climb to the heavens, but Medals are the game’s real attempt to justify the low level count. While the stages do have a clear upwards path for their completion, they also pack many side paths that can help with increasing your score or contain hidden things like element-based medals. Medals can also be given to the player for performing in a certain way in a stage, such as not taking any damage or using bombs in a certain way. This achievement system of sorts technically gives you more to do, but these bonus missions are just done for the sake of doing them and don’t really lead to a drastic shift in gameplay approach. Just go off the beaten path more or find the right area for a certain condition and you can earn the medals without it really deepening the play experience much.
Endless is a bit of a better attempt at longevity, the game turning into a survival challenge where you need to keep collecting time increases and keep your health up as you climb higher and higher, your score here being based on how high Aura-Aura climbed before it was forced to stop. And endless mode does mean less curated design than regular levels, but it still tests the same skills of jumping and grabbing properly, just without a clear end. Endless does best show that Aura-Aura Climber is best in small bursts, the simple jumping play not really too engaging long-term but having just enough to it that you can pull out your DSi and occupy yourself a bit with its light challenge.
THE VERDICT: Aura-Aura Climber is small and simple, the player only needing to climb up to the top of the sky in ten levels to really complete the curated side of the game’s content. There is an Endless mode and other small challenges, but nothing really pushes Aura-Aura Climber away from its low amount of content, and while that content does gradually shift the things you’re climbing on and the obstacles you face along the way, it still is just light variation to a basic but decent baseline design. For a bit of quick action it does its job, but the game would need more than just slight variation between stages to really make it worth more than a brief, occasional visit at most.
And so, I give Aura-Aura Climber for the Nintendo DS…
An OKAY rating. Much like a mobile game that isn’t trying to earn its bread and butter through microtransactions, Aura-Aura Climber seems designed with the quick and uninvolved visits in mind. Its medal system tries to justify its small amount of content some, but really, the core game seems to just be about playing the levels and trying to do better at them when you need something to do on your DS. Level designs do split to allow you to explore, but the goal of climbing to the top is clearly the main focus and it changes enough to keep things from growing dull, but not really enough to do more than slightly increase the challenge save for the enemies that kind of seem incongruent with your movement design.
Aura-Aura Climber is a diversion. When you don’t have something meatier on hand or just want a game you can easily enter and leave, it does its job, providing a small bit of content that isn’t hard to return to but at the same time won’t really compel you to revisit it all that much. There are small goals to shoot for outside of just winning, so while it’s not all that exciting on the whole, Aura-Aura Climber does give you an alright time-waster to whip out when you might want one.