Flying high

Quick—name five good flight simulators for the Wii. No? OK, how about three, then. Two? How about even just one?

Quick—name five good flight simulators for the Wii. No? OK, how about three, then. Two? How about even just one?

OK, so the Wii hasn’t traditionally been known for being a good platform for flight sims, dogfighting games or anything that has to do with aircraft. Since its launch, if you’re a fan of flying planes, you probably haven’t been using Nintendo’s console to do it.

Don’t worry though—publisher XSEED’s apparently got your number. And with the release of The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, the Wii finally has a very well-made flight sim.

This should come as no surprise, considering the developers of the game are none other than Project Aces, who’ve demonstrated their deft prowess with aircraft design and mechanics time and again in the superlative Ace Combat series.

The game is based on anime of the same name, which in turn is based on a series of books by acclaimed Japanese mystery author Hiroshi Mori. The plot of the film and books deals with a group of young fighter pilots—more or less genetically modified child soldiers minus infantry experience—that participate in a bizarre war-as-entertainment which helps maintain the peace among nations.

The setting, which is sort of like if Miyazaki took a stab at an alternate history World War II, seems appropriate for the story, but it’s one of only a few similarities between the game and its originators. Project Aces’ penchant for political backdrops is present in Innocent Aces, as is their love of anime cut scenes, but the narrative here is generally pretty slight.

However, with pilots as experienced as these development team flyboys are, it doesn’t really matter much when you strap into the cockpit. Project Aces have done a wonderful thing with Innocent Aces by giving it a control scheme that plays to the strength of the Wiimote while offering a setup that closely resembles (for a game) an actual plane’s layout.

Essentially, you take the Wiimote in your left hand—that’s your throttle. The Nunchuck, on the other hand, controls pitch and yaw, with its top buttons taking care of machine guns and special weaponry. To adjust speed or direction, all you have to do is pull up on your throttle (from a pointing position) or move the nunchuck up or down.

It’s an orthodox setup, particularly when you’re starting out with the Nunchuk in your right hand, but once you get used to it, it’s damn near perfect. Tricky maneuvers like barrel rolls and mid-air turnarounds are also a cinch—the eight directions of the Nunchuck’s D-pad have various tricks mapped to them, usable by hitting the A button.

Given that the Wiimote only has so many buttons (read: not many), this is a great compromise for improving your plane’s overall maneuverability, and makes flying itself a blast.
When you’re tracking a bogey in the midst of battle, there’s also .a special targeting gauge that can be used to line your enemy up in your sights. Basically, the gauge fills up to three levels the longer you’re tailing or tracking someone.

Using the gauge will make your plane do a fancy maneuver to fall in close behind your enemy, with your proximity being measured by which level the gauge is at. Flying in at a maxed out level three will practically guarantee you a kill if you start firing your machine guns, while a level one will generally put you within range, but may require manual targeting. Sometimes the targeting makes the game a little too easy, though enemies can still be tricky to keep in your crosshairs some of the time.

Of course, much like an Ace Combat game, which aircraft you choose will also greatly affect your battle performance. Picking a smaller, faster plane will make dogfighting easier, but any air-to-surface attacks you may have to engage in will probably require a little more finesse with your machine guns.

Your aircraft hangar isn’t huge, but there’s a good selection of fighters and lighter weight craft as well as heavy, slower planes that can carry a hefty payload of, say, napalm or other incendiary bombs. Customization of your planes can also help, with everything from armor and weapons to different engine and wing types available.
Even with all its different component parts, Innocent Aces feels just slightly more arcade-y than its Ace Combat cousins, but damn is it fun (and sports a great, if limited, soundtrack).

One can only hope that next time Project Aces actually makes us an Ace Combat Wii. But for a more period-style flight sim (particularly one with a $30 price point) you probably won’t want to pass this one up.