The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces review
System: Nintendo Wii
Category: Combat Flight Simulator
Release Date: January 12, 2010
Publisher: XSEED Games
The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, based on the anime film and novel of the same name, is a combat flight simulator developed by Namco’s Project Aces, the same development team responsible for the Ace Combat series. The game follows the player, callsign “Lynx,” a newly recruited pilot during an alternate world history in which war has all but vanished. In spite of the peace, private corporations contract fighter pilots to wage wars in an attempt to entertain a war-accustomed populace. Lynx joins Cougar Squad, one of many fighter squadrons in commission under Rostock Corporation.
The graphics are solid for the most part. Planes look nice, as do some of the water effects, though explosions and environment textures, especially on some of the bigger maps, tend to leave a little to be desired. Cutscenes are fairly well done too, though many of the models are a bit more angular than even the Wii has seen. Still, all of this is at least neutral, not negative, for the overall experience, unless of course you’re of the opinion that graphics are the central foundation to every game’s success. And if you are one of those people, then heed the following.
What sets this game apart from other Wii titles isn’t the graphics or accessibility or a “family fun” nature, but the fact that the controls are both not gimmicky and not awkward. Players are given the option of playing with either the Wiimote and the Nunchuk, the classic controller, or a GameCube controller, and I can honestly say that I felt no need to leave a positively euphoric Wiimote experience behind for either of the latter options. The Nunchuk acts as a control stick in the player’s right hand while the tilting of the Wiimote in the left controls throttle. Controls can be modified to personal preference, but that’s another thing I found no need for. Innocent Aces just has a beautiful control scheme. Bottom line.
Gameplay is tight and satisfying. Players can choose from a variety of different aircraft and unlock more as the game progresses, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, ranging from quick, mobile planes to ones suited more for defensive reconnaissance operations. In addition, there are countless unlockable upgrades, such as new engine types, weapons, and even paint jobs, all geared at making sure you can craft your machine to get the job done.
Now, if this were all that Innocent Aces entailed, I wouldn’t be so impressed. All of these specifications sound fairly similar to the multitude of other flight sims being pumped out these days, aside from some rather ingenious motion controls. What really sets Innocent Aces apart in the gameplay department is what’s called a Tactical Maneuver Command, or TMC. As you trail enemy fighters, a small bar fills up at the bottom of the screen. Pressing A at the appropriate time will initiate a short cinematic in which the game takes control, placing your craft behind the enemy. The higher you fill the bar, the better your position will be when you initiate the TMC. This new gameplay element takes a certain degree of skill and finesse, adding a depth and certain individuality to make Innocent Aces really shine. And if you’re reading this thinking it’s a magic wand to win the game, believe me, it’s not—enemy planes can use it too, and on higher difficulty levels you’d better not expect to end up with them straight in your sights. It’s useful enough to become a central mechanic, but difficult enough not to become a crutch. It won’t shoot down those buggers for you.
The audio is nothing mind-blowing, but certainly nothing to scoff at either. If you’ve seen the film and like the music there, you won’t be disappointed, as many of the compositions are identical, with new tunes following the same style and used appropriately to designate the expected mood. Voiceovers are really very good, which is both fantastic and a very big surprise to me. There really seems to be a raw, driving emotion behind the radio chatter that you can feel playing the game, the most striking of which comes in a mission when your squad captain is shot down. All those feelings come sailing through clear as day, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold, especially considering the fact that most of the time when a developer even bothers with voiceovers they’re very hit-or-miss in their delivery. Honestly, there’s probably only one line of dialogue that came across as weird, and right after it’s spoken, another pilot just goes, “What does that mean?” anyway, so at least you know you’re not the only one confused.
And if all that weren’t enough, Innocent Aces features varying difficulty levels as well as 21 medals to earn for various achievements, such as killing a certain number of enemies or completing an objective within a certain time limit. With tons of unlockables and 18 missions to boot, the game’s replay value is bolstered considerably.
All things considered, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is a rewarding gaming experience, providing solid gameplay and tight controls with lively characters and unique gameplay mechanics that drive home the notion that the Wii can and should be a more serious console. It’s by no means a master of ingenuity and won’t break any barriers all by its lonesome self, but at the very least it’s a decidedly attractive diamond in the rough.
Overall score: 8.5/10