Sunday, September 11, 2011

N64 Month: Aero Fighters Assault

Aero Fighters Assault
  • Publisher: Video System
  • Developer: Paradigm
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 1 November 1997
  • Genre: Flight Sim
  • Players: 1-2
  • Save: Battery, 1 file
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$5-15
There's just something so cool about playing flight simulators.  Maybe it's some thrill of flying instilled upon us from birth, I don't know.  The big name in flight simulator video games is Namco's Ace Combat series for the PlayStation family (Incidentally, a new installment has been announced for Nintendo 3DS - let's hope they keep that promise, amirite?), but if you were a Nintendo fan instead, then it's Star Fox all the way.  But there was one other game for the Nintendo 64, a flight sim which eschewed the space setting of Star Fox 64 for real-world aircraft in a fictional conflict...  And that game was Aero Fighters Assault.

You'd be forgiven for not knowing this, but AFA is the last game in the Aero Fighters series, previously a series of top-down 2D shoot-em-ups for arcades.  Unlike other shoot-em-ups, the Aero Fighters series used real-world planes such as the Grumman F-14, Mitsubishi FS-X, and Sukhoi SU-35, and Assault is no exception.  Rather than latching on to some real-world conflict, AFA takes place twenty minutes into the future, where the polar ice caps have partially melted and the mysterious organization named Phutta Morgana seeks to take over what's left of the world.  It helps that they're headed by aliens.  The plot isn't well-integrated, however, and we know little to nothing about Phutta Morgana's motivations.  Incidentally, that's the same kind of problem I had while watching Evangelion, apart from... well, you know.

In addition to the plot, the playable pilots prove that this game isn't entirely grounded in reality.  For starters, there are two Americans, the hotshot Hawk and more serious Glenda, along with Hien, a modern ninja who only speaks in Japanese, and Volk, a Russian who talks like he has no idea the Cold War is over.  (Or maybe it isn't... this is fiction after all.)  As computer-controlled wingmen, they don't do too much to help you; if you're lucky they'll attack the bosses for you, but mostly they just waste their time with enemy fighters.  The planes everyone flies also have occasional bouts of fantasy amidst the realism.  The guns (Z) and missiles (A) on all planes have unlimited ammo, which I'd happily chalk up as an acceptable break from reality.  In limited supply are your defenses (B) like chaff and air mines, which deter any enemy missiles homing in on you, and special weapons (R), which range from higher-powered missiles and bombs to the Ninja Beam laser and Fire Wave.
Boss battles are central to most of the game's missions.
Now, in my experiences playing this game, I haven't found myself needing to use chaffs much, since the game doesn't give you much if any warning when a missile is heading your way (and not that individual hits take off much damage anyway).  However, the AI-controlled planes also have defense weapons - and man, do they love to break them out.  Seriously, almost every friggin' time you lock on and shoot missiles at an enemy fighter, they're gonna block it, so you're more or less forced dogfight them the old-fashioned way with machine guns.  Fortunately, dogfighting is more of an option in most levels; rather, your missions generally involve taking down a boss, often within a time limit of five to fifteen minutes.  And thank Sabrina they don't have chaffs of their own, amirite?

For those unaccustomed to playing more realistic flight simulators, you don't just turn by holding left or right on the Control Stick.  Rather, doing so rolls your plane right or left, so what you have to do is roll 90 degrees in either direction and "ascend" (hold down on the Control Stick).  I'm bringing this up because I'd imagine most people who came across this game back in the day came off of Star Fox 64, which takes the more simplified approach to turning.  As a matter of fact, AFA does include simple turning as an alternate "Novice" control scheme, but after practicing with the "Normal" setup, I've found it to offer much smoother and precise control as opposed to the stiffer alternative.  So for anyone who's interested in trying this game out, I highly recommend you get used to the "Normal" controls as soon as possible and never look back.  One last point about the controls, you can lock the camera onto targets or wingmen by pressing directions on the Control Pad.  This is very useful when trying the most effective way to defeat most bosses: get behind them, continually circling or looping around, and launch missiles when you lock onto their weak points.  Rinse and repeat.

On the whole, the graphics in AFA easily outclass those of the first or even second games in the Ace Combat series for PlayStation (except for the frame rate).  That doesn't mean it's more fun to play, however.  The enemies' infuriating tendency to block your missile attacks, and the seemingly low damage your weapons deal to the bosses are just some of the factors that contribute to a rather unfriendly experience.  Not to mention, there are only ten missions in this game, including easily-missed bonus levels, more than a fair number fewer than most of the Ace Combat games can boast.  Other than that, AFA does play reasonably well (not to mention that unlike the early Ace Combat games, there is a 2-player battle mode present).  But should you be enticed to try it out, be prepared for a wild ride - and not in a good way.

Graphics: 3 chaffs out of 5
Sound: 4 chaffs out of 5
Control: 3 chaffs out of 5
Design: 2 chaffs out of 5
The Call: 60% (C-)

On a serious note, the day I'm posting this happens to be the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks suffered by America on 11 September 2001.  Yes, I more or less planned to release something today just so I could talk about it.  So I read the comics in the newspaper yesterday, and a lot of them were just one panel that tried to be serious and special.  As annoying as I thought it was... they have a point.  Especially the ones that honoured the firefighters, police officers, and other first responders who did their best to save lives on that tragic day and beyond.  I mean, we've never had a holiday for those people before, amirite?  And let's not forget the men and women of our various armed forces; after all, there's a reason America has not suffered another (successful) terror attack since then.  So in summation, please allow me to say:

God bless America.

And everyone else.

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