Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk Review for the Nintendo Wii

Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk Review for the Nintendo Wii

When Rebel Raiders: Operation Nighthawk hit the PlayStation 2 last year, it was a budget release that earned a mediocre critical reception. Certainly, it’s a complete shock that the game’s makers found such a title ripe for a “slap-on-some-motion-controls” Wii port. Even more shocking: this, too, is a budget release that deserves a mediocre reception.

Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk screenshot

The first thing one notices is that the developers couldn’t have been more lazy in porting this game. When starting a new save file, the name-entry keypad doesn’t even let you use the Wii-mote’s pointer feature to spell your moniker. In the tutorial, the voice-over instructs you to press “the [insert function] button,” instead of naming the button in question. In its place, some text pops up with that information, like a subtitle to a foreign-language film. They didn’t even add progressive-scan support, which is unacceptable for a title on a current-generation console; Wii games don’t exactly look stunning on modern TVs to begin with.

None of this raises hopes for the big question: how do the Wii’s motion controls work for arcade-style aerial combat? The scheme here rests on a great idea, meaning there’s plenty of hope for future titles. Unfortunately, the developers didn’t take the time to perfect them this time around.

The player flips the controllers around, holding the Nunchuk in his right hand, the Wii-mote in his left. The Nunchuk functions as a control stick for steering the plane and firing weapons (it’s motion-sensitive too, remember?), and the Wii-mote serves as the plane’s dashboard, with buttons for reloading, speeding up, and slowing down.

The problem comes with the Nunchuk’s steering; the plane is far too sensitive, drunkenly weaving around with each shift of the hand. This makes aiming a real pain and overcompensation a constant problem, and there’s no option to use a different scheme or a GameCube controller (the latter is surprising, given how similar the GameCube and PS2’s controllers are). Reviewers often commented on how easy the PS2 version was, but trying to keep your sites trained on a target can be controller-smashingly frustrating here.

Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk screenshot

What we’re left with, then, is the underlying game, a shovelware title from a last-generation system. The graphics are passable (the sun looks nice, the airplanes seem fearsome, and nothing looks so bad as to jump out at you), but the landscapes have almost no detail or texture to them. The music doesn’t (usually) grate, though it doesn’t stand out, either. The sound effects are all right as well, serving their purpose without creating a truly engrossing experience. Basic gameplay can be mildly entertaining at times, but there’s not much of a sense of speed (even at the highest speed setting, sometimes it actually feels slow), not much of a sense of realism, and not much of a sense of action.

There are 16 core missions, plus some special ones, and cutscenes divide each into several parts. These cutscenes tie the battles into a larger storyline; it’s the future, you’re fighting against totalitarian forces, and the people who recorded the voice lines couldn’t act their way out of paper bags.

Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk screenshot

In the battles, there are two basic categories of targets, and each part of a mission tends to focus on one or the other. The first type is the rival airplane, and they’re ridiculously easy to handle, even with your plane staggering around like it’s running on Jack Daniels. When you fly close to them, you automatically “lock on” and can let off a barrage of missiles to take them down (ammo is unlimited, though you need to reload periodically with the Wii-mote’s D-pad).

Their only counterattack is to shoot you with their missiles, which ludicrously hover behind you for a moment, then speed up into you. Push the Nunchuk’s joystick left or right at that point and you evade the missile. It’s not a hard time-window to hit; once, we went too early and had time to do it again before the missile struck the plane.

Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk screenshot

By contrast, with Nunchuk steering, “gun” targets are very difficult. Sometimes the guns are mounted on bombers or gigantic airships, and sometimes they’re on the ground, but in all scenarios the problem is the same: the only way for your plane to shoot something is to fly straight toward it while firing, and when you fly straight toward a gun, it has a pretty clear shot at you too. Because it’s so difficult to keep your aiming reticule directly over the target, the guns tend to get more shots in than you do. To make matters worse, your missiles don’t lock on, and even worse still, they don’t connect even when you aim them manually. You’re stuck guiding the plane’s weak primary weapon (a machine gun, usually) with a wobbly Nunchuk.

This brings up two additional points: One involves how we confirmed for certain that missiles won’t destroy gun targets; we flew right up to a gun and shot a missile at it. The missile went through the target into the sky, but we took almost no damage for running headlong into the gun, and then the ground. You’re free to smash into anything you want, with few consequences.

Two, there are no save points besides the end of the missions, which usually last 15 minutes or so. It’s rather annoying to lose that much work because you got unlucky with one too many gun enemies, especially when it happens more than once. This isn’t the kind of game where you can play the same things over and over without getting sick of them.

Passing missions unlocks more levels and new planes. The levels mostly look the same and largely offer the same challenges. The planes have a variety of weapons, including, absurdly, a “shotgun.” It’s a pump-action shotgun, judging by the pause and “chick-chick” sound effect between each shot. We’re not quite sure whether someone is leaning out of the plane, drive-by style, or if engineers mounted a hunting gun and a pumping mechanism on the plane’s exterior.

Even suspending disbelief, it remains stupid; it takes too long between shots (whereas you can fire eight missiles at once) and doesn’t lock on very efficiently. So, the default (missile) plane is better than the first unlockable (shotgun) one. To the game’s credit, most of the subsequent planes are rather fun to fly.

In many ways, Rebel Raiders is a few tweaks away from a great discount game. Players could live with the low-rent production if that meant enjoying great controls and balanced shooting levels. A little less sensitivity in the steering, a little more challenge from the rival planes, and an easier way to target enemy guns would have provided this. Maybe some multiplayer, whether online or split-screen, could have helped, too. As it is, they’d be better waiting for Tom Clancy’s HAWX and coughing up full price.

The planes look cool, but the landscapes are boring. No progressive-scan support. 2.1 Control
The Nunchuk could make a very good control stick, but in this game, the plane is too sensitive to small shifts of the hand. 2.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Not bad, not good. 2.2

Play Value
Too easy in some ways, too hard in others, no multiplayer, altogether forgettable.

2.3 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • 15 fighter planes equipped with powerful weapons.
  • 16 unique missions.
  • Futuristic environments.

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