|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Smart Bomb Interactive||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Majesco||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 2, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2 (6 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
The concept is "super cute," according to the wife: as Snoopy and other Charlie Brown characters, you take to the skies in classic World War I fighter aircraft, gunning for the Red Baron and pretty much any other plane in the sky.
Sure enough, there's cuteness aplenty here. The cutscenes feature hand-drawn art and Pixar-esque animation with the Charlie Brown cast we all know and love, and it's hard to take seriously a game in which anthropomorphic cartoon animals and morose children fly planes and shoot at each other. This is no cheap attempt to cash in on the Charlie Brown license, though; Snoopy Flying Ace is an incredibly polished, detailed, and well-made arcade dogfighting game that's a steal at $10 via XBLA. It comes out of left field, given that we haven't heard much about the Charlie Brown license or arcade-style dogfighting in years, but it's a pleasant surprise.
From the very first play, it's clear that the developers took a lot of care with how Snoopy Flying Ace looks and feels. The game runs smoothly, and each aspect of the presentation strikes a perfect balance between the various goals the developers sought to achieve. Regarding the graphics, the balance is between gritty realism, an artful color palette, and the game's comic and cartoon roots. With the music, meanwhile, the balance is between traditional Charlie Brown tunes and dramatic war orchestration. With the sound effects, the balance is between intense battle and cartoonish noises. Flying through the fictional world feels at once genuine and a little surreal. The effect is not unlike a classic Charlie Brown strip or cartoon: innocent, childlike, and fun, but also a little sad.
The basic controls are handled well, also. You steer with the left joystick, perform basic tricks (barrel rolls, 180-degree Immelman turns) with the right joystick, fire with the trigger buttons, and change weapons, boost your speed, and slow down to take tight curves with the face buttons. Those looking for a deep, immersive, realistic experience will be disappointed; this plays more like the original Xbox's Crimson Skies than like a flight simulator. But those looking for responsive mechanics for some hectic flying and shooting will be thrilled.
Despite the controls' being simple and intuitive, piloting your aircraft can take some getting used to, so we recommend playing through the brief (a couple hours or so) single-player campaign before trying out the game's multiplayer modes. There are several different mission types, most of which are a lot of fun, and after completing the campaign, you can re-play the stages to earn a higher ranking (or on a higher difficulty). In one, you try to take an enemy zeppelin out of the air, battling waves of fighters whenever the big balloon puts its shields up. In others, you have to escort friendly vehicles, man turrets, kill off waves of bad guys, and even follow Charlie Brown as he navigates a maze of twists and turns. The only mission type we dislike requires you to rescue Woodstock's bird friends from captivity. They're surrounded by swarms of hovering bombs, and as the planes can be hard to maneuver in such tight situations, it's more frustrating than fun to try to fit in the available openings without getting blown up.
As you clear stages, you unlock more and more planes; there's a huge variety of World War I-style fighters. It's nice to have so many customization options, but aside from being in light, medium, and heavy weight classes, they're mainly just graphical replacements for each other. There's a much greater variety of function when it comes to weapons (one of which is like the sticky grenade from Halo, except you can detonate it remotely). Most of the single-player missions limit you to just a few weapons, but multiplayer gives you free reign to outfit your ship as you choose.