The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces - hands-on

Imagine living in a society so accustomed to war that its citizens simply can’t cope with not killing each other en-masse for any extended period of time. Unsettled by lasting peace, the restless populace in The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces craves constant bloodshed, smoldering wreckage, and destruction. Hopping into the cockpit for a test-run of Project Aces’ upcoming anime aerial combat sim, we gave the people what they asked for.

Based on a series of Japanese novels and an anime film adaptation, The Sky Crawlers is shaping up to be much more than your average flight battler sim. The development team behind Ace Combat is aiming high to bring the series’ intense flight combat to the Wii. As one of many genetically engineered clones created specifically to fight and die in airborne battles for the amusement of the viewing public, you’ll engage in numerous missions filled with radio chatter, plot twists, crazy flying, and exploding shrapnel. The finished game will feature lengthy anime cutscenes between missions and frequent in-game dialogue accompanied by wingman character portraits. Unfortunately, these story elements weren’t available during our hands-on jaunt with an early build of the game. But the free mission mode did give us a taste of the tight controls and fast-paced airborne battles.

The Sky Crawlers is curiously played by gripping the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk in the opposite hands you’d normally hold them in. Tilting the remote forward (with your left hand) and backwards controls the throttle, while tilting the Nunchuk (with your right hand) moves the plane in four directions. This initially awkward setup actually does afford a great amount of maneuverability once you get used to it. We sent a handful of low-level bogies plummeting downward toward the beautiful scenery below in a ball of fire within seconds of taking to the skies.

Tougher foes will attempt to trick you by flying into clouds or towards the sun to obscure your view. To balance this out, you’re given a toolbox full of cool aerial maneuvers for staying alive and showing off with. Keeping your opponent in your sights during close proximity flying triggers a meter that builds up to different levels. Tapping the A button at just the right time triggers a slick tactical maneuver that sends your plane twisting and turning through the air and lines you up for a straight shot at your enemy. It’s a very satisfying mechanic that’s great to watch in action.

Using a few different armament load outs, you’ll face airborne and ground-based opponents over the course of numerous missions. New planes, parts and weapons will also be unlocked as you play through the game. However, not all of the game’s levels involve fighting. One spy mission has you flying low behind enemy lines to snap pictures of key positions and avoid being detected. There’s still more work to be done before The Sky Crawlers is ready for its Western debut this holiday season, but joystick jockeys have some fancy flying to look forward to.

Jul 17, 2009