The lights are on
Sky Crawlers Innocent Aces is a flight sim from the Ace Combat developer, Project Aces. Rather than following the plot of the movie (which I haven't watched), it takes place prior to it, during the war between two corporations named Rostock and Lautern.The setting is an alternate WWII-era when there's peace, but perpetual peace causes people to get bored and restless. So corporations battle each other to keep them entertained and give them a side to cheer on. It wasn't explained particularly well or made very clear in the game, and the movie probably did a better job of that.You play as a new member of Rostock's Cougar Squadron, codenamed Lynx. Naturally, you're a star and you are quickly promoted to captain, revered by your allies and striking fear into the heart of your enemies. One thing that sets Sky Crawlers apart from other flight sims is the controls. It's controlled primarily with the nunchuk, which is used as the flight stick and recommended to be held in your right hand, with the Wii Remote - acting as the throttle - in the left. Rotating the nunchuk causes your plane to rotate, tilting it forward causes your plane to go down and tilting it up causes it to go up.
It's odd, and I'd be lying if I said it was easy to get the hang of. They aren't bad though, and once you get the hang of them it's more immersive than a standard control scheme and makes it more satisfying to line up a shot and blow your enemies out of the sky. It also offers GameCube or Classic Controller controls for people who don't want to use that or take the time to get the hang of it, and aside from mapping yaw (a slow turn to the left or right, used for precise movement) to the D-Pad (when the left analog is used for rotation and vertical movement, that makes it impossible to use them at the same time) it doesn't have any major flaws and is fairly intuitive.
It plays like a more arcade and less simulator version of the Ace Combat titles. The camera is third person by default (although it can be changed) and the focus is on air to air combat, and they trade homing missiles and supersonic speed for crazy maneuvers and WWII era planes. To top it all off, it's got a great soundtrack that manages to get you into the action without being rock music, which would feel out of place in this game.
Assuming you are good enough to unlock them, there are twenty different planes to unlock, each with four special weapons that you can take one of with you on a mission.There are rockets, faster than normal machine guns, a semi auto cannon, a machine gun that is fixed at an angle towards the ground, several types of bombs, and even a giant shotgun. There are no homing weapons like in Ace Combat, likely because of the WWII setting.
Each of the planes have different stats, and you can further customize them with a number of unlockable upgrades. You can have a lightning fast fighter without much armor, a well balanced fighter-bomber, a bomber that is tougher than a Gameboy, or anywhere in between. You've also got eight special maneuvers triggered by pushing the nunchuks analog stick in a direction then pushing A. There are about 16, and you can choose which ones you want to suit however you play.
There's also a special mechanic you won't see in an Ace Combat game; The Tactical Maneuver Command, TMC for short, allows you to automatically position yourself behind an enemy plane through a series of maneuvers no one will ever be good enough to pull off in gameplay. If you stay within 350 meters of a plane (a short distance) you'll begin to fill a meter at the bottom. It goes up to level 1, 2, and 3, the higher the level the more effective, but a level one is sufficient against most enemies on Normal. Against bosses, it'll put you behind them but your crosshairs won't be dead on them, so you'll probably get few if any shots.
The enemies you go up against use ground, air, and naval forces, but the main focus is on air to air combat. There are several different types of fighters, and although the planes have different stats and the better ones use more advanced maneuvers, there aren't many that are fundamentally or drastically different. There are a few unique enemies and bosses who are much more skilled than your average enemy, and they tend to use different tactics. One who you fight about 60% of the way through the game will often charge you head on after putting distance between you and him, and if you learn about their tactics you can use them against them. For the aforementioned guy, grab the Long Range Gun and you'll be able to fill him full of bullet holes before he gets within range to attack you. Aside from skilled pilots, you also battle the worlds most durable zeppelin and a giant cannon.There are 16 story missions, and they're generally good. One of my favorites has you fight two enemy aces, and throws a moral choice at you. Better yet, the choice is in gameplay, not asking you a Y/N question. The only mission that I loath having to do is an early game mission where you have to escort friendly planes and defend them from fighter attack... in a slow, unwieldy bomber. It killed my attempt at doing a no TMC run, I can do every other mission without relying on it. Look, make us escort allies or make us fight enemies who are far more mobile, don't do both.On second thought, don't do either.
It's not particularly long, but if you want to play on hard (it seems to make the enemies have better AI and nerf the TMC, so that you need a level 2 or 3 to have your cross hairs directly on anything but the weakest enemy) it has a new game+, which is especially good because it'd be jarring to go from your specialized, end of game plane to the first one. I'm fairly certain that some planes can only be unlocked through Hard Mode as well. You can also play them in any order you want through the free mission mode, which has a bonus mission after you beat the game - The aptly named Ace of Aces. you have to singlehandedly shoot down 100 planes in half an hour or less, the best I've managed is about 40 planes before I crash and burn.
*This review has not been edited to address the crashing mechanics