Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
I have always been intrigued by flight. Specifically, fighter planes. Even though the modern fighter jets are cool, I’ve always believed that the older ones are the best. There is just something amazing about WWI and WWII dogfights. Granted, they were deadly, and I’m sure scary as hell to be in, but the way those planes move is incredible. If you have never watched footage of a WWI dog fight, you need to. Its like watching a swarm of mosquitos.
In 1990, Red Baron was released on PC. I spent hours flying around in biplanes, trying to hunt down, and take out, the elusive Manfred von Richthofen. Those planes were much slower than other flight sims I had played, but that just allowed for the pilot to make maneuvers that are no where near possible with more modern planes. This game made me fall in love with WWI flight sims, and I have been waiting many years to find another one that could fill that void.
Along comes Red Wings: Aces of the Sky, published and developed by All in! Games. My excitement level, upon seeing news of this game, was through the roof. I could not believe that a WWI fighter pilot game was actually coming out. I quickly began to worry because I was not convinced anyone wanted the same type of game I did. There had to be a catch.
My fears grew deeper as I started watching trailers. The flying looked good, but it also showed special moves. I didn’t want special moves. I want to fly over France and shoot down a red triplane, flown by the greatest fighter pilot ever. I gathered myself together, thought positive thoughts, and hopped in my plane.
I was pleasantly surprised that Red Wings had campaigns for both the Axis and the Allies. The levels are basically the same, in different orders, but the story and the planes are appropriate for the side you fight for. I was not expecting anything more than flying and fighting, which I would have been good with. Instead, I was presented with two beautiful stories.
On the Axis side, the story is about being in a squadron with the Red Baron, and about how things were flying with him. I have not done a lot of research on the topic, but it feels like this could be based on true stories. On the Allies side, its all about hunting down the Red Baron and thinking about your family back home.
Not only are the stories good, but they are presented in a comic book form. I really appreciated this decision. The camera goes from comic frame to comic frame, and the words are voice acted. Most of this comes in the form of letters written home, so the voice acting never needs to be spectacular. All in all, the story really works. I do not believe I would have felt robbed if the game didn’t have a story, but I am glad it was there.
As previously mentioned, the planes are specific to the side you are on. I absolutely loved seeing them as they unlocked with game progression. They all vary in speed, endurance, and how long you can fire before your gun overheats. Beyond that, you can unlock new skins by meeting different level requirements. I enjoy that it gives the player the option to change the look of the planes, but I always prefer the original. WWI planes are almost like art to me.
OK, so the story is well done, and the planes are cool, but the game is nothing if the gameplay is lacking. Lucky for Red Wings, the gameplay is spot on. As the first level starts up, you are in the sky, just flying along with enemies on the horizon. I took control of the triplane and instantly fell in love. The controls just felt right.
I had to start by just moving the plane around in the sky. I pulled back on the thumb stick and the plane turned upward smoothly. Side note: you are a complete animal if you do not invert your X axis in flight sims. As I moved the stick left and right, the plane leaned and turned beautifully. I’m telling you that the controls felt really great.
As you progress through the campaigns, you will have four types of missions. The basic one is just taking down a specific number of enemy planes. You dog fight groups of enemies while attempting wrack up combos. The enemy difficulty continues to increase through the levels, and you will have to fight Aces towards the end. These pilots will have greater skill and higher armer.
A second style of mission is taking down giant blimps that have turrets under them. You will have to make run after run past them before you are able to take them down. While doing this, you will have to deal with very mad pilots trying to take you down and very powerful turrets fighting for their lives. You will also find yourself on bombing runs. I found these to be the least difficult and not nearly as fun.
The final Red Wings mission type is flying through rings as fast as you can. These missions really showed off how great the controls feel. During the earlier versions of this mission type, you are just fighting against time. If you don’t make it to the next ring in time, you run out of fuel. By the final one, you are also dodging ground fire. This became very difficult and frustrating, but it never felt unfair.
Let’s go back to my biggest fear, before diving into this game. I was worried about the special moves and that it would make the game feel arcady. I was wrong. The special moves are ones that a real plane would be able to do. I believe they are presented as “special moves” so that the you cannot just do them continuously. The barrel role and u-turn moves are important for general dogfighting and will recharge relatively quick. Your ability to call in another plane, to take some shots at an enemy, recharges much slower.
My favorite special move is almost a finisher. After you build up enough kills, you can use a move where your pilot pulls out a pistol and shoots an enemy in the head. The cut scene for this made me so happy. What I really loved about this move is that WWI pilots would actually carry a pistol for this purpose. I have no idea how often it really worked.
Along with the special moves, Red Wings gives you a skill tree you can build up. You will earn stars by completing missions within a specified time or with enough points. This was another thing that worried me because I feared it would take away from the realism. Honestly, it never ended up bothering me. I would have been fine with it not being there, but it didn’t take away from the experience.
Being that the game is a timed exclusive in the Nintendo Switch, it is important to know how it feels in handheld. Well, once again, it feels great. I played the game 95% this way. I put it on the TV to see how that felt, so I could try out multiplayer with my son, and to attempt the motion controls. Yes, this has motion controls. I tried them once and could not get them to work properly. I am not sure if it was my joycons or the game, but it really doesn’t matter. I’d prefer to play the game with thumb sticks.
Red Wings allows for split screen multiplayer, but not online. This made me a bit sad. The split screen worked pretty well, and you are able to see plenty of the playing field. I was hoping you could bring in a second player wherever you were in the campaign, but the multiplayer is its own campaign. The levels are the same as the single player with a few exceptions. On the bombing runs, the second player flies a fighter and protects the bomber. I thought this was a great way to approach this. For the ring levels, the players start on opposite sides and meet in the middle. All in all, the multiplayer is something I’ll try out more with my son.
If the campaign is not enough for you, the developers were nice enough to add in a survival mode. This mode throws waves of enemy fighters at you, and, well, you try to survive. It forces you to conquer the easy level before moving up to harder ones. To make it more difficult, there is a timer that counts down while you are surviving. If you cannot take out all the waves before time is up, you have lost. This is a great addition if you are looking for extra dog fighting.
I went into Red Wings: Aces of the Sky hopeful but ready for disappointment. The game exceeded my expectations. The controls were great, very good missions, enough variety to keep me interested, and difficult but not so much that it caused me pain. If you are into WWI flight sims, or any flight sims, do yourself a favor and buy this game!!!