Air fortress needs two pictures to capture its essence because it's really like two games in one. The first part of the game is a side-scrolling shooter and the second is a platform shooter. This game tries to be all things to all people (well, at least two things to two people) and I'll let you know throughout my review whether or not it succeeds.
In Air Fortress you play a guy named Hal Bailman (I dare you to make up a better name. What? You just did? Ok then). He comes from the planet Farmel (it doesn't say if it's mainly populated by an agricultural society, but I'll bet it is) which has always been as neutral as Switzerland. The one fateful day the planet is besieged by a bunch of air fortresses. Farmel's defenses are way too weak to take down the air fortresses, so they send in a small one-man fighter with a spiffy space suit (Hal aka you) to take the fortresses down.
When you start the first level, you are scrolling horizontally on your spiffy spaceship, which looks a lot like a Scooty Puff jr. (tm). There is an almost appalling lack of things to shoot. Imagine Life Force without all the weapon powerups and enemies to shoot, and that's what the first side-scrolling level is like. There are little energy and bomb cells to pick up which will help you when you actually go inside the fortress. Eventually your ship guides itself to a stop at the entrance of the first fortress. You hop off and go inside.
Once inside your little man has the energy and bombs you collected earlier which aid him in his quest to shoot everything in sight. This part of the game is a little like Metroid without all the weapon powerups and such. The platform shooting part of this game is the best thing about Air Fortress. Your jet pack is easily maneuverable, and blasting your enemies and taking successive elevators to the next area is all pretty intuitive. Eventually you'll reach the generator or whatever it is that you shoot to make the place blow up (it looks a lot like Mother Brain). Then you have to find your way back out, but you don't actually go back. You go forward and find your Scooty Puff right where you didn't leave it. You hop on it and zoom out much faster than you zoomed in. Then it's on to the next of the 8 fortresses.
The levels do get harder as you go on. There are more enemies to shoot in the side-scrolling portion, and the scenes inside the fortress get more complicated. Eventually you're shooting evil versions of yourself as you frantically try to find the exit before the place blows up. It's moderately fun, but I do have some beefs with it. First of all, if you collect 1500 energy and 30 bombs on a level and don't use them to blow up mother brain, guess how much energy and bombs you have when you start the next fortress? 200 energy and 0 bombs, which is exactly what you start the whole game with. That's bullcraparoni. Secondly, you have three lives on your Scooty Puff jr, but inside the fortress if you die it's game over. That makes no sense. Finally, there are no weapon powerups in the game at all. A simple addition of at least two other types of weapon would have added much needed depth to this game. I didn't mention this before, but I'll mention it now: Air Fortress has a great little theme song. It's stuck in my head right now and I don't mind it at all.
In the end Air Fortress just falls a bit short. If it had actually succeeded at being Metroid and Life Force wrapped up in one little package, that would have been an unimaginable triumph. People would be still trying to figure out if its better than Zelda or Super Mario 3. Unfortunately this is not the case. I give Air Fortress a nod for a valiant try and a congrats on still being a fairly enjoyable game despite biting off more than it could chew. Final verdict...