Sky Crawlers: Innocent AcesESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: XSeed Games
Wii Remote and Nunchuck
I have to admit that I enjoy my anime once in awhile, and once I found out that XSeed’s latest release, Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, is based on this Japanese traditional animation, it made the game that more intriguing. Developed by Project Aces, the same Namco team that has developed the long running Ace Combat series, I had some hope that the flying mechanics and overall gameplay would be something not yet found on the Nintendo Wii. Well I have finally had some time to sit down and play the game. How did the final product fair? You’ll just have to read on to find out.
Visually Innocent Aces is a pretty solid Wii title. The screen can fill up with enemy and friendly planes flying all around, and the level of detail that was on screen during all of these instances was pretty impressive. Sure, the Wii is not as powerful as the Xbox 360 or PS3, but the visuals still manage to look solid throughout most of the game. You will find times that the some of the levels are not as detailed as others, but this seemed to be when the game had to compensate for a crazy amount of planes flying in the sky. That being said, this was not a major issue given most levels are pretty good. As for the game’s plane designs, there are some truly wild looking planes and it definitely looks like the developers kept an open mind that the anime takes. Technically speaking the game runs as a fairly solid framerate with very little if any noticeable slow down to be found. If I had to nitpick about anything, it is that the game could have benefitted from a high-def bump or higher resolution textures, but we all know the Wii is not capable of of more then it is. Overall I give kudos to developers Project Aces as their lineage of the Ace Combat games truly pays off.
As with the visuals, the sound in Innocent Aces helps make it a better game. The voice acting during the animated cut-scenes really does match the presentation of such, even though it can be somewhat over the top now and then. There is also a lot of voice chatter during gameplay and I found that my fellow aerial fighters banter during the heat of battle made a lot of sense and didn’t take away from the experience. As for the sound effects, they manage to get the job done, from the sound of the propeller based planes to the machine gun fire to the aerial explosions, you’ll find that the everyting does a good job of recreating the aural experience that the visuals need. Finally, the music that plays during the game is standard anime fare, and matches the style of the game you are playing. Although it is nothing stupendous, it manages to add a bit more to the overall experience without grating one’s nerves. Overall the total audio experience helps makes this the game that it is.
Although the game is based on the Japanese Anime by the same name, the story found in the game is not nearly as in depth or fleshed out as much as I’d hoped. That being said, should you pay attention you’ll get some satisfaction here. The story focuses on how the world is now a peaceful globe, with war taking a back seat to everyone getting along. That being said, it seems that those ginormous corporations that still exist realize that war is actually profitable, so they set up the scenario where battles are waged not for the purpose of world domination but for financial gain instead. These battles take place in the skies. In order to provide the pilots for these battles “Kildren” are genetically manufactured. These are young children who never die unless killed in the heat of battle. You take the role of Lynx and pilot him through the games 18 or so missions. The game’s narrative is played out through anime inspired short movies that don’t look that bad at all. All in all you won’t find yourself deeply immersed in game’s plot, but at least there is something there to try to pull it all together and you’ll mostly enjoy what is there.
Story aside, being that this is a flight combat game on the Wii the main thing that matters is how the game plays. Well I am happy to report that it plays pretty darn well. There are a bevy of control options for you to choose from. You can opt to try to try the motion control scheme where you use the nunchuk to turn and the Wii Remote as the throttle but this takes some getting used to and most will find the learning curve somewhat difficult. It can be overcome with time and practice, but I found that it took a lot of patience to master this scheme. Should you want to try something more conventional you can choose to use analog stick of the nunchuck and buttons on the Wii Remote. But wait, that is not all, you can also use the Classic Controller or the GameCube controller should you wish. All in all there are a lot of options here and even the most fickle gamer should find something to like.
Flying the various planes is pretty cool and you will find that the control options allow you to move about the skies in a very effective and entertaining manner. You control everything from speed to yaw to which weapons to fire in such a way you will never feel that the controls burden you down as you play. Pretty cool stuff indeed. Given the crazy nature of the Sky Crawlers anime, developers Project Aces has added a few new tricks that you won’t find in any of their previous Ace Combat titles.
What is most evident in Innocent Aces is the Tactical Maneuver Command system, TMC for short. The TMC is a method of getting in behind your enemy in order to take them out. Here you need to trail your enemy target from behind and as you do the TMC meter will begin to fill. The longer you keep behind your enemy the more it will fill. There are three levels of the TMC meter, but you can use it at any level. Once you activate the TMC the game cuts to a cinematic scene where you watch your plane pull of a pretty fancy maneuver that will put you in a position that your chances for a clean and perfect take out is almost guaranteed. The higher the TMC meter when activated the better the position you are given. During the initial stages of the game I thought this was going to be a way to ‘cheat’ so to speak, but as I progressed further into the game I found that I actually needed to use this more often or not as the enemy AI was able to pull off some of the same moves I would. Believe it or not it really does test your piloting skills and adds a sense of excitement as you try to keep up and match your foes moves in order to stay behind in an effort to fill your TMC meter.
Along the same lines as the TMC system is the ability to custom assign some manual maneuvers to your controls. Here you can assign the analog stick or the d-pad up to eight custom maneuvers that you can pull off at anytime during a battle. You can pull off simple moves or some very complex moves in order to survive. Should you have no clue what these maneuvers entail the game does show you what they look like so you won’t feel lost as you will know exactly what your assigned maneuver can do. To make sure that you don’t just rely on these assigned moves, once you pull of any of the assigned maneuver they have to go through a recharge before you can use it again. I found this a good gameplay decision given that it forces people not to spend the whole game doing these fancy moves to emerge victorious.
So the controls are pretty solid, but what about the games missions and enemy AI? The missions are wide and varied and allow you to take on various roles throughout the 18 levels you face. I enjoyed the fact that during my time with the Innocent Aces that I never felt that it kept me doing the same thing over and over again. You can find yourself doing a little aerial recognizance taking pictures of the enemy’s base then all of a sudden you will find yourself in the heat of an aerial dogfight as you attempt to make it back home in one piece. The missions are varied and tie in to the story that unfolds in front of you. As for the enemy AI, it can prove to be a formidable foe, matching you move for move making you work for every ounce of your TMC meter and every kill you make. I really enjoyed the fact that this game kept me on my toes at all times and that I just didn’t walk through it with my eyes closed.
On a multiplayer note, Innocent Aces could have benefitted from some sort of online or local multiplayer mode. Although I note in the features section that the game supports two players, this is very limited. A second player can play along but they only control a second aiming reticule on the screen as you both fire away at the various enemies. They don’t get their own plane or own screen to fly along with you. I do think that the game could have benefitted from true multiplayer support, but alas it does not have it and I don’t know if there will be a sequel that could address this.
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