Braving air no dog has ever braved before.
When you think World War I, a cartoon dog is probably the last thing on your mind, especially the aircraft pilot kind. In Charles Schultz's world, though, the two collide, as his iconic character Snoopy daydreams about turning his doghouse into a Sopwith Camel and taking down Red Baron. Over the years, plenty of developers have tried to take that comic strip idea and turn it into a game, but none, until now, have hit it just right. Smart Bomb Interactive just might have crafted one of the most fun flying games ever.
[image1]I'm no stranger to aerial combat games, as over the years, I've been dabbling with the many Microsoft Combat Simulators, Crimson Skies, and more Rogue Squadrons than anyone could possibly cope with. Even so, it's easy to dub Snoopy Flying Ace a great flying game. Its charm hits you immediately, with a giant Snoopy taking half of your screen, his red scarf flying, his posture tough.
Snoopy Flying Ace starts off kind of slow, with a fun but admittedly simple campaign mode. Missions come in a variety of types - reconnaissance, grounded turret combat, dogfighting, rescues, and bombing runs. They're grouped into separate sections that the game uses to measure different skills.
In the Technique group, there's much more emphasis on precise piloting than shooting, while in Assault and Defense, you take the fight to the enemy and guard your territory. There isn't much of a story that can be followed (you know, a flying dog taking on the Luftwaffe) , other than what the still scenes between missions manage to tell. If things get too tough, you can bring a friend along locally or over Xbox Live to give you a hand. Yep, all missions can be played in co-op.
Gameplay is extremely easy to pick up, and like any great game, has a lot of depth. One stick is used to fly the plane while the other, like in the Skate, is used for tricks and maneuvers. Vertical loops and inverted barrel rolls become second nature quickly and are a vital tool in combat. Weapons are also varied and offer plenty of combinations for a lot of different tactics. I love sticking with air mines and poison missiles, a good combo for more dastardly bait-and-switch combat.
[image2]While not comprised of the most robust or complex series of missions ever, the campaign does a good job serving as a training tool that teaches you the ropes of flying a plane and prepares you for what is this downloadable title's true shining feature: multiplayer. Snoopy Flying Ace has a robust online and local multiplayer mode, with a lot of different match types and even a persistent leveling system. Where the multiplayer in Battlefield 1943 eventually becomes a endless cycle of death (well, not much of a cycle, more like a straight line), the same can't be said about Snoopy's online offerings. I caught myself having a lot of fun even on the game's barest free-for-all mode.
The other multiplayer options are also stellar. Pigskin's name speaks for itself. It's an aerial American Football mode, where the objective is to reach the opponent's red zone. Capture the Flag is your standard, run-of-the-mill chase and its variant, Dogpile, has a single player or team running the gauntlet against the A.I. Even if you hate all things Peanuts (for which you should burn), there's no denying how charming this game is and how... strange it can get. Most of the Charlie Brown gang make an appearance, on both sides of the War. Lucy is a German officer and ace, while Charlie is the flying instructor for the RAF.
Things do get violent once the action moves to the air. Even Xbox Live Avatars are liable to get shot, blown, hit, pushed, and smashed out of mid-air, with little to no remorse on the game's part. The action rarely slows down and is very colorful. The musical score is also very well done, especially in the training levels where the classic Charlie Brown piano pieces make a comeback, even if the fan favorite Peanuts theme is nowhere to be found.
[image3]There isn't a lot of voice acting, unless you consider Snoopy's maniacal laughter a voice, which is used to perfection when he occasionally shoots down an enemy. All this shooting takes place in a bunch of (admitted by the game itself) inaccurate real-world locations, like the Sahara and Paris, which also bring a lot of charm and look just cartoony enough to be the appropriate backdrop the combat.
If you dismiss Snoopy Flying Ace as just a kid's game based solely on its looks, you'll be making a grave mistake. Snoopy Flying Ace is one of the best reasons to plunk down 800 pts on Xbox Live Marketplace, with its amazing online multiplayer that begs you to come back time and time again. Plus, heck, who never wanted to shoot down Peppermint Patty? Don't deny it.