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Snoopy Flying Ace

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Smartbomb Interactive
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Flight/ Action/ Arcade

Graphics & Sound:

"Curse you, Red Baron!" How we have longed to see those very words emblazoned on the screen, and we finally have our chance with Snoopy Flying Ace for Xbox 360. Okay, there isn't emblazoning going on, but this is by far the best use of the Peanuts license in a game. Plus, the idea of doing an entire game based on Snoopy's dog-house pipe dreams is just brilliant. There's an argument to be made that this would just be a good flying/combat game, regardless of whether it carried the Peanuts license, and we can buy that. All the same, every time we catch a glimpse of Lucy or Red Baron zooming by us in the sky, it puts a smile on our face. The music, as you might imagine, is heavily influenced by the show, with plenty of piano plinking to offset the more rousing battle music and sounds of combat.

Before and after missions, you do get some scenes with all the characters you know and love, and we'd be telling a fib if we didn't admit we wanted more of this. Pretending to be WWII pilots suits all the characters quite nicely, but they are animated a lot more cleanly than you've ever seen them in their show. Brief snippets of dialogue pop up during gameplay, but it's a fact that the focus just isn't on this being a Peanuts game as much as it is about living vicariously through Snoopy. The planes you'll fly are great looking, and pack some really showy weapons. One thing Snoopy Flying Ace captured was the drama of aerial battles, including the panoramic views of the cities and countryside you end up flying over. Weapons also have a satisfying punch to them, backed up by a generous rumble effect. The overall style of the game isn't terribly true to the comic from an artistic standpoint, but it makes a nice departure that works better for this type of gameplay.


Gameplay:

And speaking of gameplay, there sure is a lot of it to love. No less than 18 missions can be flown solo, with several focused more on your mastery of the flight controls than anything to do with combat. In local Co-Op, you can fly the same missions with a wingman, and in missions where you would be manning a turret (called "Big Guns") and defending a location against waves of enemy flyers, you'll have one person in the sky while another holds down the fort. The same is true for missions where you get out of the plane and take charge of a bombing sortee. In these, you'll have one person bombing while the other takes down the airborne opposition. If competitive matches are more your style, Multiplayer offers a mix of gameplay modes that are also available through Xbox LIVE. Before we diagram out these options, it's worth noting that there are eight unique maps to play, and one new map already available for purchase and download. You can select all your Peanuts faves as pilots, mixing and matching their planes and armaments according to how you like to play. If this weren't enough, you can throw up to 15 bots into the mix during your Multiplayer modes, to keep things interesting.

The basic solo missions are split between defeating a specific number of planes by dogfighting, bombing targets from above, defending positions with a large anti-aircraft gun, or completing precision flying missions. There are two variations on each of nine mission categories, including boss battles where you'll go after large zeppelin targets while enemy fighters and rockets from the zeppelin assail you. Multiplayer modes include variations on Capture the Flag, one called Dog Pile that rewards whichever pilot can hold on to a "bone" the longest, and an American football variation titled Pigskin. Teams can be formed, and the frenzied action in these games is where Snoopy Flying Ace really comes to life. It's not that the solo missions are bad, but they can all be knocked out within an hour or so of downloading the game. Don't buy this for solo play or a Pilotwings/Sky Odyssey type of experience, but do buy it if you have lots of friends on LIVE and like the idea of challenging them to some fast-paced aerial combat.


Difficulty:

It's possible to adjust Snoopy Flying Ace so that it can match a player with above-average skill, but the default difficulty isn't that taxing. The biggest difference you'll see is that enemy fliers are dashed against rocks and obstacles while you basically bounce off things. There are maneuvers you can use in battle that make it difficult for enemies to hit you, but the more advanced pilots on the other side will also use all those maneuvers. Some of the weapons seem ridiculously overpowered, but Snoopy Flying Ace is a pretty over-the-top game to begin with, so don't expect everything to be rationalized. Skill plays a major role in winning or losing, at least 70% of the time. You'll get in some lucky shots, and so will your competition. The solo campaigns are a cinch, but even those can be replayed a a higher level of difficulty. Snoopy Flying Ace is more about relaxing and having a good time than trying to do flight simulation or worry about managing lots of complicated plane mechanics. After all, when you've got the Red Baron hot on your tail, all you're worried about is performing that perfect roll/reverse and blasting him out of the sky.

Game Mechanics:

The feeling of flight in Snoopy Flying Ace is loose like an arcade title, which is perfect for putting the focus on frenetic fun. Analog Sticks control the direction of your plane, with some special moves keyed to quick actions like the double stick-push that rolls your plane left or right. It's possible to adjust any and all controls, but the stock configuration is pretty darned solid. Weapon switches can be done with a button-push, but the weapons themselves are keyed to the Left and Right Trigger, which is awesome. The Right Trigger does the basic machine gun attack, while the Left controls whatever special weapon you've equipped to your plane. Weapons have a cool-down period imposed, requiring some tact in spacing your shots rather than just hammering down constantly on the trigger. As you complete missions, you'll open up more exotic weapons, and a setup screen allows you to select from these along with a variety of planes, many with slightly different base stats. Setting up each game scenario involves more than a few options, but the action while you play is kept blissfully simple.

We didn't know what to expect from this title, and it could have easily fallen prey to the lure of every piece of licensed claptrap out there, to simply whitewash some other game with the Peanuts characters. What happened here instead produced a fun flight combat game that is like Mario Kart meets Top Gun, and that does a fine job depicting the type of WWII missions we always imagined populating Snoopy's imagination. Especially if you have a strong group of friends on LIVE, or often host gamer parties where you'd like to inject something new, Snoopy Flying Ace is a safe bet for enduring entertainment.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Windows Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse: Episode 3, They Stole Max's Brain! Sony PlayStation Portable Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

 
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