The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces Preview: Guileless, But Not InnocentS

Everyone loves the Ace Combat games for their action-y flight simulation and normally fabulous graphics – both of which are selling points for The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces.

The other selling point for Sky Crawlers is its tie-in with a Japanese novel series of the same name. In this alternate-reality world where it's permanently World War II, a group of young fighter pilots do what fighter pilots do best: dogfight. This is why it confuses me that the game is called "Innocent Aces." To be an ace fighter pilot, you've got to shoot a lot of people down, right? How is that innocent?

What Is It?
Sky Crawlers is a flight simulation game for the Wii developed by Namco Bandai and Project Aces – the team behind the Ace Combat games. Players take the role of a rookie pilot, codenamed Lynx, and work their way up through the ranks of the Sky Crawler pilots.

What We Saw
I played through an early mission in the game where the main target was an enemy bomber plane. I set the control scheme to beginning and still managed to ram my plane into the target instead of successfully shooting it down.

How Far Along Is It?
The game is due out in the 2009 side of the holiday season.

What Needs Improvement?
There's No Multiplayer: Ace Combat 6 proved the multiplayer modes can in fact work in flight simulators – so why don't we get any in Sky Crawlers?

What Should Stay The Same?
Accessibility: Sky Crawlers' difficulty settings range from Beginner to Expert and they aren't kidding when they say "Expert." The multiple layers of difficulty open up the game to newcomers and challenge old hat Ace Combat fans alike; and the way that Beginner mode mostly keeps you from pitching out of control opens up the joy of a big empty sky through which to crawl – or plummet, if you dare try Expert.

Special Maneuvers: While flying a mission, a yellow circle appears on the mini-map. Keeping your plane within the circle fills a gauge that allows you to pull off special maneuvers during combat by pushing the Nunchuck's analog stick in one direction and pressing A. These special maneuvers will get you behind enemy planes for a perfect shot or get you out of trouble if you've got a bogey on your six – and they look pretty amazing.

It Felt Really, Really Good: Even on beginner mode, the flying controls in Sky Crawlers felt very intuitive and not at all like a Wii waggle fast. The Nunchuck (held in the right hand) functions as the actual plane joystick while the Wiimote acts as the throttle (tilt up to speed up and down to slow down). Overriding my natural inclination to button mash was a little difficult, but the Beginner controls were patient enough not to let me spiral out of control while I figured out how not to stall out. All in all, a very rewarding flight sim experience.

Final Thoughts
I'm not sure how much a gamer would be missing for not having seen the anime or read the books – but Sky Crawlers seems like a good fit for the Wii in terms of gameplay. Too bad about the multiplayer, though; flight sims aren't really great games for an audience and there's no other way anyone else could get into it while you're at the controls – unless they've seen the anime or read the books.