After gunning and bombing through far too many uninspiring WWII flight combat games, it’s easy to be sucked in by the way The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces almost teasingly rolls out a compelling far-out story of airborne warfare built around wingman camaraderie and some intense flying and fighting. The game is based on the Sky Crawlers anime film and sports a cinematic progression that anime fans will immediately appreciate. And the fact it’s put together by the Project Aces team means it doesn’t skimp on the crazy dog fighting action in the least.
Innocent Aces takes place in an alternate-reality past. Years of war and violence have given the populace a taste for bloodshed and twisted metal, and citizens just couldn’t cope when a long and lasting peace inevitably fell across the land. Seizing an opportunity for profit, large corporations sprung up to begin manufacturing an artificial war to make money, entertain the masses, and make citizens feel safe – a real war won’t break out if a fake one is already going on, right? To this end, opposing corporate factions send their pilots into battle to fight and die for the cause, though the plot thickens when a strange batch of child-like cloned pilots are introduced into the airborne conflict. As a young glory-seeking pilot named Lynx, you join up with one of the warring sides to prove your skills in the cockpit.
Sporadic anime cutscenes and lots of fully-voiced dialogue give the presentation a strong movie-like vibe, though the actual plot itself takes some time to build momentum across the game’s 18 missions. Some menus and mission briefings are on the sterile side, but the visual pleasantries found in the intense dogfights and cinematic special maneuver moves make up for this. The uniquely-designed propeller planes you’ll pilot have a range of slick-looking designs, and you can customize them extensively in the hanger before and after missions. New planes and parts to deck them out with are unlocked as you progress through the main campaign. It’s worth spending some time tooling around in the hangar once you’ve unlocked some goodies, since you can equip your plane with some pretty interesting armaments, including a shotgun-like close-range cannon, and many other items that boost their handling, armor, and other combat capabilities.
Sandwiched between mission briefings that include detailed maps of the battlefield and objectives, snippets of story scenes, and plane customization stints in the hangar, you’ll hop into your plane of choice and take to the skies to tear things up. The selection of planes to pilot expands the more you play, and each handles differently. Accompanied by other wingmen on your team, you’ll engage a range of bogies in dogfights, tactical bombing strikes, assaults on land and sea-based enemies, and photographic recon runs.
In any given mission, objectives shift and change as new plot twists arise in the story. One moment you might be snapping photos of a base located at the base of a dam; the next you’ll be high-tailing it back to safety while trying to keep your allies alive and not get shot down in the process. Wing-mates chat constantly over the radio and via anime headshots that pop-up, often commenting on the action as it unfolds. Aerial combat quickly grows frantic as you encounter fast-moving enemies that use some tricky maneuvers to try to out-fox you. Fortunately, you have many of the same tricks to use against them.
Regardless of what kind of plane you’re piloting, the game has a handy Tactical Maneuver Command System that lets you take down enemies like a pro. Keeping an enemy within your sites gradually increases the TMC meter to different levels. Once you’ve let it charge enough, you can tap a single button and watch your plane pull off some crazy-looking auto-maneuver that lines you up for a perfect shot at your foe. This is awesome to watch, and it’s a crucial technique for taking down tougher foes. You can also execute manual tricks by selecting a direction with the thumbstick and engaging them with the A button.
Innocent Aces uses an unconventional control scheme that attempts to mirror a flight stick setup. The Wii Remote is held in your left hand, and it handles the throttle, special move triggering, and targeting systems. Using the Nunchuk in your right hand, you’ll tilt to turn it and dive. Firing and weapon selection is handled by the Z and C buttons, respectively.
Once you get over the initial awkwardness that comes with switching hands, the controls do begin to feel natural. It’s possible to engage and Expert style control mode that allows for a lot more control over the plane. There are other options too for folks who have a rough time of things. If you can’t adjust to the Wii Remote and Nunchuk mixing and matching, it’s possible to plug in a classic controller or even a Game Cube controller to play that way.
The only major problem with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk setup is with the ships themselves and the inability to adjust tilt sensitivity. Every ship handles differently, depending on its type and how it’s equipped. Making hard turns and maneuvering isn’t too difficult in the smaller, spunkier planes, but the controls feel painfully unresponsive on missions where you’re piloting hulking bombers that fly like a beached whale. The real kicker is when you’re then required to attempt to dogfight in these sluggish beasts while protecting other slow-moving friends from swarms of fighters. If you can push through these few highly irritating missions, you’ll find the ships get easier to handle.
Innocent Aces’ anime style and unrealistic premise won’t appeal to everyone, but the game is loaded with some really intense and challenging missions. The story and tone give the game some extra legs if you have the patience to let them get cooking, and the fancy flying and air combat are fun enough to merit strapping into the cockpit and firing up the engines.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The aerial maneuvers and anime presentation are polished, though not everything is quite as sexy on closer inspection. 3.8 Control
The creative flight stick imitation setup works well most of the time, but there is some awkwardness to push through. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Dramatic music and tons of voice acting bring the characters and story to life. 3.7
It’s easy to get sucked into the story and find a lot to enjoy in the game’s 18 action-packed missions.
3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.