Pros: Original control scheme, a wide variety of planes.
Cons: Useless story, no proper multiplayer.
Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, is a flight combat game that soars like an eagle, breezing through the clouds, swooping and looping and gliding effortlessly. At least that’s true in terms of gameplay. In terms of story, the game manages to get off the ground only to hurtle back down to earth like a stone, breaking into pieces, bursting into flames and leaving nothing but ashes.
At first the story, told in anime-style cut scenes, is intriguing. Hot shot pilots battle while a young girl waxes poetic about the beauties of flying through the sky. Mention is made of kildren, pilots who cannot die in battle. The various stock characters - a slippery project leader, a callous hot shot – promise conflict and intrigue.
Like the story, the gameplay immediately grabs the player. Sent up into the air in an armed plane, players can swoop around shooting enemies and dropping bombs using a unique, well-designed control scheme.
The Controls: Flying High
The control scheme is one of the game’s highlights, and is exactly the sort of thing that shows off the Wii’s capabilities. You reverse the natural order of the Wii remote and nunchuk, holding the nunchuk in your right hand and the remote in your left. This is because the game uses the nunchuk as a control stick – probably just because it looks a little like a basic joystick controller. You steer by tilting the nunchuk side to side or up and down to simulate control stick operation, tilting the remote to control speed.
Some gamers absolutely hate this control scheme and prefer to play the game with a GameCube controller, which is also supported. This may be a matter of what they are accustomed to; flight combat fans doubtless are used to very specific control layouts. I, on the other hand, don’t generally like flight combat games – the last one I really enjoyed was the wonderful 2001 PC game Crimson Skies – so I came to Innocent Aces open to whatever the game had to offer.
Besides steering manually you can also make special moves by pressing the analog stick and then a button. For example, push the stick forward and press “A” and you will fly in a loop to reverse direction. Push the stick a little to the right or left for a barrel roll.
For me, the most useful part of the control mechanism is the ability to zero in on enemy planes. You can target a plane, and then if you get close enough to it, a meter will begin to fill. Once the meter has filled you can press A to fly directly behind your enemy. If the meter is just filled a little, you won’t be pointed directly at the plane, but if you can stay within range long enough to fill the entire meter then the plane will line up perfectly in your sites, allowing you to quickly take it down.
The Gameplay: Fasten Your Seatbelts
Throughout the game you will unlock a great many planes. You can choose a fast plane that can’t take much damage, a sturdier, slower craft or another play whose strengths and weaknesses are carefully balanced. You can also unlock various secondary weapons, like bombs or torpedoes or weapons that will allow you to shoot at more distant enemies. Upgrades to these planes let you tweak their performance. Annoyingly, you cannot customize planes directly from the screen where you choose the plane you want to fly; instead you have to go into a separate hangar mode. Overall the planes are well designed, although for some reason one has a main weapon that makes no sound, so I was never quite sure if it was firing.
Missions are varied, including bombing runs, dog fights, a reconnaissance mission, protecting a downed plane and battling a flying fortress. Difficulty swings wildly from mission to mission. I had so much trouble in mission 6, in which you have to protect several other planes until they can escape the battlefield, that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it through the game, assuming that difficulty would ramp up with each mission. I was surprised when mission 7 was much easier; only a few missions turned out to be as hard as 6.