If you’ve been looking for a 3D dog-fighting title on the Switch your options to date have been pretty scant. Developer All In! Games aims to fill the void with their latest release, Red Wings: Aces of the Sky. Red Wings: Aces of the Sky takes place during the first world war, tracking the rise and fall of the legendary Polish pilot Manfred von Richthofen. You can take on the role of a pilot in the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) or the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy), with each campaign consisting of 25 missions. Much of the game involves soaring through the skies in famous planes of the past, taking out opposing pilots and observation balloons. But does it hit the target or is it a bit of a plane-crash?
First off, Red Wings: Aces of the Sky is not a realistic take on the flight simulator genre. Don’t expect to be nestled in an authentic representation of the cockpit of a Sopwith Camel, surrounded by dials and doodads. Red Wings’ UI keeps things simple; you have a fuel gauge which constantly ticks down, a health bar and a speedometer. By default, you control the direction of your plane with the left analogue stick, and you set the speed with the right. ZR fires your machine gun in the direction the nose of the plane is pointed, while ZL allows a degree of zoom so you can get a better lock-on on distant targets. That’s pretty much it for the basic controls.
The combat works really well on the whole. Your plane is tight to control, and you’ll rarely find yourself struggling to steer in the right direction. Firing your machine gun feels satisfying, with just a touch of auto-aim ensuring your shots hit the mark. Your machine gun can overheat, and deciding when to take your finger off the trigger when dealing with a dangerous foe adds a much needed dash of strategy, especially as some enemies’ shields can re-generate if you do not take them out quick enough.
As you defeat enemy pilots in quick succession your combo meter will start to build. Your performance is ranked out of three stars at the end of each mission, and often achieving a high combo multiplier will lead to a better score. This incentivises you to quickly move between targets. The stars you accrue can be used to unlock a host of useful perks, including improved damage to enemy shields or reduced susceptibility to weapon overheating. Racking up massive scores also allows you to unlock new planes and skins for those planes. Each plane has different stats which might make them better suited to certain kinds of missions, so unlocking them improves your chances of grabbing a better score when you play earlier missions again. I enjoyed being able to focus on progressing through the missions without worrying about getting 3 stars the first time around.
You have a selection of special skills which are mapped to the A, B, X and Y buttons. You can launch a squadron of ally planes at multiple targets. perform a U-turn or use your pistol to take out a weakened target. By far the most integral (and unrealistic) ability is the barrel roll. During intense firefights enemy planes will often fly straight at you in a suicidal attempt to end your glittering career. Using the barrel roll offers an extended period of invincibility, allowing you to survive collisions intact. While this makes little sense it makes each dogfight all the more thrilling. All your abilities are on a cooldown system, so employing a barrel roll when you are not in danger could compromise you when you are. The barrel roll becomes even more of a tool once you unlock the perk of barrel roll kills counting towards your combo multi-player.
All-in! Games have attempted to diversify the gameplay with Superman 64-style “fly through the rings” levels and bombing missions. Neither of these are particularly fun. The ring levels are unforgiving; miss a single ring and you have to start all over. The bombing missions lack the visual panache of the dogfights which make up much of the game. In these levels the action switches to an overhead view, and your job is to release bombs from a slow moving plane while dodging artillery fire. The targets are massive and your plane releases three bombs at a time, so it’s possible to complete these levels in a couple of minutes. It’s a shame that the missions which are present to offer variety aren’t very enjoyable, as the dog-fighting does start to lose its lustre. This is especially the case during the second campaign, which feels extremely similar to the first.
Another weak point is the story-telling. Red Wings’ narrative is told via comic strip sequences which take place every few missions. Unfortunately, the writing and voice acting in these sequences are pretty sub-par. The translation is awful and it’s hard to tell what is going on, with the script often wandering off into pound shop philosophy which regularly falls flat. It’s all a lot more confusing than it needs to be, and my finger hovered over the skip button during some of the latter sequences.
In addition to the main story mode there is also “Survival”, which involves dogfighting waves of enemies. This mode felt a bit too similar to the missions in the story mode to me, and didn’t offer the diversion I was looking for. I wasn’t aware of any reward for completing the Survival mode, and the easy and medium difficulties are an absolutely walk in the park. I would have liked some more linear missions using the third-person perspective, maybe involving chases through narrow canyons, thereby challenging the players ability to pilot their plane and offering more variety in term of terrain.
If you get bored of playing with your yoke on your own there is two player local co-op. Living alone during a period of government-imposed isolation meant I could not give this a proper test, although I connected a second controller and flew about a bit and the experience didn’t seem to be compromised, although the skill tree is shared between both players. I could imagine this mode being a lot of fun for a couple of dogfight devotees.
Handheld play is pretty solid, with the smooth, chunky graphics translating well to the smaller screen. I didn’t notice any dips in performance in either docked or handheld mode so that’s pretty grand.
If you want to embrace carpal tunnel syndrome you can play with motion controls. This maps movement and shooting to the right joy con, which is wielded flight stick-style. The the left is used for special moves. Unfortunately the button placement isn’t comfortable. Shooting requires you to curl your finger over the top of the right joy con which feels super awkward. A lot of precision is lost when trying to steer in this way too, though it’s maybe worth trying for a quick laugh.
I was quite taken with the visuals of Red Wings: Aces of the Sky. All-In! Games have opted for a cel-shaded, comic book art style and it looks pretty lovely in the dog-fighting and ring-based missions. The devs have wisely placed a lot of focus on creating beautiful skyboxes and just-detailed-enough terrain. This helps to mitigate the inevitable graphical repetition of a game based around dogfighting. The planes look great, even when they’re exploding. Marshmallow clouds give a sense of speed which might otherwise be lacking. The Switch isn’t a powerful console and I was impressed with what All In! Games were able to achieve.
Unfortunately it’s not all positive. The overhead missions look drab and the visual effect for artillery is poor and not in keeping with the game’s style. The art-work between missions is beautifully painted but doesn’t really sit well with the comic book aesthetic.
Red Wings: Aces of the Sky features a symphonic soundtrack, and it’s fine if a little repetitive.
The sound effects are perfunctory at best. The voice acting also isn’t great. During cutscenes, the narrator switches out of describing events to portray characters depicted in the comic panels, but unfortunately, he doesn’t really change his tone of voice so it sounds pretty goofy.
Red Wings: Aces of the Sky features 50 story missions in addition to the aforementioned survival mode. Each mission typically takes around five minutes to complete bringing the total run-time to around 5 hours (allowing for the odd death/longer dogfight). Once you have completed the main story there isn’t any additional content, although you can replay missions to level up further and unlock new planes. The question is whether you will feel like doing that once you have finished the campaign.
Red Wings: Ace of the Sky is a fun and pretty dogfight simulator which, while unlikely to satisfy historians or flight simulator purists, offers a decent chunk of arcadey fun. The gameplay does become repetitive and there isn’t quite enough here to justify the £17.99 eShop price-point, but it nevertheless deserves the Thumb Culture Silver Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.
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