Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces (Wii)
Developer: Project ACES (Namco)
Released: January 12th, 2010
Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is a flight sim game based off the anime film Sky Crawlers by Mamoru Oshii and Production I.G. (the people behind Ghost in the Shell), and is all about fighter pilots in war... sort of. See, the world is actually at peace, but in order to keep up the spectacle, private companies host their own war games, and it's become a sport of sorts amongst the public. Think of it like football, but with guns and bombs.
You take the role of Lynx, the Sky Crawler's new recruits, a fresh-faced youngin' who has yet to prove himself. Naturally, you're a star and shoot right up there to become the star of the team. Everything is fine and dandy until upper management shifts around, bringing on a few new pilots who are nothing more than kids. Things start to take a darker turn from there.
What's interesting about Innocent Aces is that it doesn't follow in tandem with the anime's storyline. Instead, it acts as a supplement, only touching here and there on the story, and instead expecting you to have watched the film already and know what's going on. It can be a really big turnoff for those who haven't watched the film.
When it comes to piloting the plane, I was wondering just how well these controls would work. Even after tackling the tutorials, it took me several full missions to get a natural grasp on the controls and actually get things to work as I wanted them to. The great emphasis is on motion controls, with the nunchuck controlling pitch and yaw, while the wiimote controls speed. The buttons handle the plane's weapons and maneuvers (barrel rolls, U-turns, etc).
Once you're in the heat of battle, all that practice goes out the window -- at least for me. I found myself doing the same action with both hands as I played. So, if I braked (pulling back on the Wiimote), I'd also turn upwards (back on the nunchuck). It became problematic the more frantic the fights got, and I would peg that to the wide range of controls necessary to the game butting heads with Wiimote play style.
The heat of battle, though, is great. It's enjoyable like you wouldn't believe. You're given objectives to take out, such as enemy ships or supply planes, and then deal with the fighters and AA guns that are in your way. The game gives you the ability to upgrade and customize a wide array of planes with all sorts of materials and guns, letting you tweak each battle experience to how you think it might work best.
Combat starts off simple, but things quickly escalate ever so elegantly. A sudden wave of enemies appear, the music swells, and you're off to save one of your wingmen. Before I knew it, I was standing up, yelling at the enemies as I shot them down, and felt my heart pumping. It was a bit of a surprise the first time I noticed it.
For all the possibile controls in the game, it's a shame that even on my second playthrough, I found myself relying almost exclusively on the game's repositioning system. If you spend a certain amount of time within a sphere around a nearby fighter, you can press A to reposition yourself right behind them. It makes shooting down enemy planes infinitely easier, but I feel like I'm missing out on something more. The thing is, there's no easy way to do the maneuvers necessary to get yourself repositioned like that, and so you almost have no choice but to use it.
Going into Sky Crawlers, I honestly had pretty low expectations. I haven't had a lot of great experiences with games adapted from anime, and I was having trouble imagining a flight sim on the Wii. The game pleasantly surprised me with a smart (but difficult to master) control scheme, combat that was fun, engaging and difficult, and some great visuals. It's hard to nail down just what made this game as fun as it was, which speaks to the good combination of all the elements of the game. Even for someone who's not really into flight sims, this game is a fun play. If you decide to pick up this game, then be sure to pick up the movie as well -- it's well worth the watch, and will make the game leagues more enjoyable.
Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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