REVIEWS -- Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces (The) -- Wii
The Sky Crawlers rolls through license stereotypes
by Jon Erik Ariza
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Rent
Xseed does the impossible and actually delivers a good licensed game, which as scary as it might seem, also happens to be a budget title.
The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is based on the recent Mamoru Oshii animated film, The Sky Crawlers, which itself was based on The Sky Crawlers series of books by Hiroshi Mori. The game is a Wii exclusive and it is a budget title. Most people would probably write the game off as another cheap shovelware title after those two sentences, but those who do are missing out on an excellent experience.
Nice and gratifying features
Innocent Aces is an arcade flight game produced by Namco’s Project Aces team who’d previously developed the Ace Combat series of games and the team’s experience shows through in the gameplay. The game utilizes the Wii remote and nunchuk as the plane’s throttle and joystick, respectively. The use of the nunchuk is pretty straightforward: simply tilt it in the direction you wish your plane to move. The remote is tilted up and down to increase or decrease the plane’s throttle speed. The nunchuk’s motion sensors are up to the task and it works well most of the time. At first it may seem a bit unresponsive but as you use different planes you will realize that the plane’s handling has an immense impact. For those who still find themselves loathing the motion-control set-up, the game does include support for the GameCube and classic controllers.
The gameplay itself is pretty basic. Missions typically task you with defeating all enemies in the area, defending a target, or destroying specific targets. There is also a handful of specialized missions, such as taking recon photographs, transporting a VIP, or hitting a particular target at the specified time. The mission variety isn’t the greatest but it certainly covers the basics and a little bit more.
What distinguishes the game from others in the genre is the maneuvers system. With the game’s expert controls turned on, you could certainly do many of the classic flight maneuvers yourself, such as barrel rolls or loops, but the game allows you to map maneuvers to the different directions on the control stick and execute them with the A-button. The variety of maneuvers is impressive and there are several more to be unlocked. These maneuvers would normally be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to execute manually.
Then there’s the TMC (Tactical Maneuver Commands) system. By targeting an enemy plane and staying close enough to them for a certain amount of time (not unlike the kill system in Manhunt) and press the A-button and your ship will automatically execute a complex cinematic maneuver that will bring you in close behind your target, letting you pick them off. This method earns your more points in the game’s scoring system and while it may seem like a crutch the game balances it well. It works well against the typical cannon fodder, which are easy enough to pick off even without it. Bosses however are a different story. Consider yourself lucky to stick close enough to these ace pilots long enough to trigger the maneuver, and even if you do, they are likely to evade your shots after you execute. Not to say it’s impossible, but you certainly do feel a sense of satisfaction when you pull it off and land a few shots into an ace.
As you progress through the game you will unlock new planes and parts depending on your performance. Each plane feels noticeably different when piloted. There are some slower but more heavily armored and some faster but lighter armored. You can then equip parts that will modify each plane even further. New engines increase speed and mobility, there are weapon modifications, paint jobs, and upgrades that decrease the time it takes to launch a TMC, or make you more effective against different targets. Each weapon then has a small selection of sub-weapons that you select prior to your mission. These weapons include various types of dropped bombs, such as unguided, powder, or torpedoes, and other guns such as long-range, shotguns, and rapid fire.
Better than your average budget title
One thing that sets The Sky Crawlers apart from other flight games is the emphasis on story. For most flight games this aspect is completely ignored and instead focuses you on the mission at hand. Here the game is meant more as a companion piece to the film as it takes place in the same world and only touches on certain elements more prominent in the film, such as the nature of the war and the details behind the young pilots.
The story is progressed through great-looking cutscenes, produced by the same studio that produced the animated film, in-game chatter, and in-game scenes, and focuses on the Cougar Squad, a wing of veteran fighter pilots and the addition of several extremely young, new pilots. The story certainly belongs to the characters and is not simply replaced by the missions. While the plot and the characters are pretty interesting for the most part, the major turn in the story is somewhat abrupt, but not surprising. Still, the overall experience is enjoyable.
The game’s graphics are perhaps is weakest aspect, still, they more than suffice. The planes have a good amount of details but you will never be impressed. The landscapes use the same old trick in flight games where everything on the ground is incredibly tiny in comparison to your plane and modified satellite photos are used to texture the landscape. This looks fine when you’re in the sky as the small ground units emphasize the height, making it seem as if you’re flying higher than you really are, and the distance between you and the landscape helps the satellite photos look convincing. The moment you swoop down to ground level, though, things change. You suddenly notice that your two-man prop-plane is the size of a city block and the satellite photos look pixilated and ugly up close. Granted, this is typical of most flight games, not just this one in particular.
Where The Sky Crawlers does impress however, is in the audio department. The sound effects certainly stand their ground, or at least don’t distract from the game itself; the voice acting is incredibly well done. All the voices seem appropriate to the characters and the actors’ performances are believable, if a little melodramatic in some places. Overall it’s better than we’ve seen from many high budget titles.
Then there’s the music. Kazuhiro Nakamura, who has composed music for Namco games such as the Tales and Tekken series, delivers a beautiful soundtrack that does not support the action on screen but enhances it. The music turns fun dogfights into aerial ballets and turns boss battles into epic set pieces. Fortunately, a music player is unlocked after beating a game but it would certainly be worthy of a soundtrack release.
At 17 missions the game may be a bit on the short side. It can be easily completed in a day of dedicated playing though fortunately the game includes diversions to extend your play time. Previously completed missions may be replayed for better ranks and scores, which in turn unlock more parts with which to customize your plane. There is an extra mission in which you are tasked with shooting down 100 enemies within a time limit and 21 achievement-like medals to earn. There is also a minor co-op mode in which a second remote can fire onto enemies. Also, despite the bland cover art which makes it almost indistinguishable from other flight games on the Wii, Xseed has gone the extra mile and made the cover art reversible, including the Japanese cover art on the other side.
Licensed games and budget titles are two words most gamers cringe at the mere mention of. Put them together and you’re likely to have a frigid audience but The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces manages to surpass those pitfalls and be not just a good budget title, but simply a great game. Perhaps the involvement of Mamoru Oshii and Hiroshi Mori as consultants contributed to the surprising quality of this iteration of both their works. Regardless, The Sky Crawlers is a game that any Wii owner, flight fan, or anime fan would be proud to have in their collection.
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games / Xseed Games
Developer: Project Aces
Release Date: January 12, 2010 (US), February 2010 (EU)
Review Date: 24-02-2010
Numbers of Players: 1-2
Players Online: No
Notes: Wii Exclusive, Nunchuk Support
They get the job done. Not the best on the system but certainly not the worst.
The gameplay mechanics are fun in and of themselves and there is a good amount of mission variety, but more importantly the dog fighting is just fun.
The game’s production value belies its budget price. The storyline is more fully featured than you’d expect from a flight game and is progressed through well-produced anime cut scenes, battle chatter, and less impressive in-game scenes.
The music in the game is simply beautiful and definitely enhances both the game and the storyline. The voice acting is done better than expected for a budget title and better than some big budget games.
There’s definitely content here to keep you playing, like an extra survival mission, achievement-like medals, or simply replaying missions to improve your rank and unlock new planes and parts.