The Wii doesn’t have many flight combat titles (Starfox is still a glaring absence in the first party lineup) but Legendo is making a sizable contribution with their WiiWare title, Pearl Harbor Trilogy: Red Sun Rising. The game is a port of a PC title from 2007, with most of the content split up into three large chapters of missions. Red Sun Rising gives you the Pacific Theatre of World War 2, as seen from the arcade-style perspective of numerous period fighters and bombers.
The game’s combat is relatively simple but has a few realistic touches. For example, your health recharges to a degree and you have infinite missiles and bullets, but if you cut throttle too low your plane will stall, and it takes quite a bit of thrust and airspace to build up airflow over your wings again. This combination of arcade sensibilities and flight sim nuance make the game deceptively difficult at first. I died numerous times in the introductory attack on Pearl Harbor just trying to figure out the controls. Unfortunately this is one of Pearl Harbor Trilogy’s major stumbling blocks.
The game has three control schemes: standard Wii remote, Wii remote and Nunchuk, and Classic Controller. Both remote and remote/nunchuk combo requires that you steer with motion controls or the pointer. The Nunchuk analog stick is strangely relegated to throttle and changing the camera view. I understand that transferring PC joystick-style controls to the Wii’s unorthodox controllers is difficult, but I would have preferred a dual-analog movement/aiming system similar to the Wii’s many first-person shooters. As it stands the Classic Controller setup is the most traditional and the one I was most comfortable with.
Once you find the control setup that’s right for you, there’s a surprisingly deep amount of gameplay on hand. As the name implies Red Sun Rising is the first episode of three main games within Pearl Harbor Trilogy, which are essentially three separate campaigns focusing on different stages of the war. Even as a standalone episode there’s a solid number of missions, and some even allow you to fly different planes, resulting in two sets of objectives and significantly different gameplay for each. The game is also quite even-handed in its portrayal of Pacific Theatre flight combat, offering both American and Japanese missions. This also means that you get to fly a healthy variety of craft from both sides, letting you sample the various fighters and bombers that were fielded during the long struggle.
There’s also a decent story on order that plays out like an afternoon History Channel documentary about the war in the Pacific. It’s all done in text and comic book panels but it gives you a balanced perspective of what both sides were thinking and the politics that led to the conflict in the first place. It’s an unusual amount of depth for an arcade flight sim and I felt that at times the complex motivations and back story presented before each mission clashed with the relatively simple gameplay that followed.
Red Sun Rising’s production values are slightly higher than what you typically expect out of a WiiWare title. The visuals are quite impressive, easily matching average retail games for the Wii. The first level is a good demonstration of the game’s graphical capabilities, with dozens of planes swarming the skies and damage effects like smoke, explosions, fire and the constant hailstorm of 50-cal rounds filling the air. Compared to so many flat, simplistic minigames on WiiWare, Red Sun Rising is truly something to behold.
The sound effects are crisp and for the most part adequate, but it’s difficult to pay attention to in-game instructions when they are delivered by subtitles and a gurgling generic radio transmission. The music is comparatively low-tech. All of it is done in rather obvious synth, and while it made me a bit nostalgic for N64 flight combat games like Rogue Squadron, the music felt a bit anachronistic and took me out of the experience at times.
Red Sun Rising is somewhat repetitive but that’s hard to overcome in a genre that consists mostly of flying and shooting. It’s a solid first episode to the trilogy and offers a lot of content for your money. In fact as a port it might make a better console game than a PC sim, considering its arcade style gameplay and relatively simple controls. Red Sun Rising has raised the bar for graphics on WiiWare, so lets hope that the next two installments even out the difficulty curve a bit and include some better music.