If there's one thing I can say about Destineer it's that they are certainly fond of their niche products. Don't get me wrong, there's certainly nothing wrong with what they are doing. However, in the past few months they have released everything from Homie Rollerz (a racing game about those Mexican-American figurines) to Indianapolis 500 Legends (a racing game about 30 years of one specific race course). These are niche games for sure, the kind of titles that appeal to a very specific type of gamer.
Should we expect something different from Spitfire Heroes: Tales of the Royal Air Force, Destineer's newest portable shooting game? Heck no, this is yet another interesting product that is geared towards a very specific type of gamer. Based on a book series, Spitfire Heroes is an air combat-style shooter for the Nintendo DS. Let's face it; the portable market is generally not the place to go when you're looking for an exciting air combat action game. While there have been a few minor successes (Ace Combat on the PSP, Blue Lightning on the Lynx), the majority of third-person flying games on a handheld have been extremely poor. Thankfully Spitfire Heroes is better than the rest of the competition, even if it's nowhere near being perfect.
Spitfire Heroes tells the tale of the Royal Air Force, a group of elite British fighter pilots that helped turn the tide in World War II. Well, that's the story it definitely sets out to tell, this game is nowhere near being a realistic recreation of these events. For starters, apparently every single thing that the Royal Air Force was able to accomplish was performed by one guy and only one guy. Throughout the entire game you are forced to complete levels where it's you against the rest of the world, no matter how overwhelming the odds. To be fair there are times when you hear from and are aware of other people on your side, but this game gives you the feeling that only one guy was responsible for changing the outcome of World War II. It sort of changes the meaning of the slogan, "Army of One."
But the realism of the game isn't important; I have had plenty of fun fighting realistic wars using unrealistic means. When you really think about it this game is no more unrealistic than that of Call of Duty, Medal of Honor or Midways ghastly Hour of Victory. Of course, those games actually gave off the impression that you were surrounded by your peers, something that completely eludes Spitfire Heroes, for whatever reason.
Spitfire Heroes is broken up into a number of short missions, each starting with its own grainy (for "nostalgia" sake) videos that sets up the level, followed by a dossier of useful information (including your mission orders). At the beginning you'll find that you're asked to shoot down a lot of enemy planes and little more, but as you progress through the game you'll find yourself protecting important bases, kill the tanks on the ground and, in some situations, kill the tanks on the ground while dealing with airplanes that are trying to destroy your base. There is some variety in this game, but for the most part your missions are as simple as kill the other guys before they kill you.
When it comes down to it this game only has two major problems, the rest of the stuff I can easily overlook while enjoying the game. The first big problem is the draw distance, which sometimes feels like it's about an inch in front of your plane. Perhaps it's the Nintendo DS's hardware or screen, but whatever the case is Spitfire Heroes is marred by itsy bitsy enemies that you generally can't see until they are about to hit you. Things go from blurry to downright painful when you try to locate the tanks on the ground. You'll have better luck trying to your contact lens at the beach than you will see any of the enemies in this game. The solution to this problem (if you can call it that) is the radar, which you quickly learn is invaluable.
The other big problem is the difficulty, which ramps up a little too quickly. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of challenging games, but there were far too many situations where I felt the game was being unfair and, I hate to say it, needlessly difficult. The difficulty can be blamed on two things - the tiny graphics and the sluggish controls. Using the D-pad to control your airplane just doesn't feel very natural and there is most definitely a learning curve associated with this game. The game is considerably easier on the easy difficulty setting, but you're really going to need to bring your A-game if you're going to beat any of the other difficulty settings.
Once you get over the steep learning curve and start going through the mission you'll realize that there isn't much to the game. The levels are generally pretty short and there aren't very many of them. A dedicated pilot could easily blast through the story mode in an afternoon, though they'll probably end up getting frustrated by the extreme difficulty. It's disappointing how short the game is, but at least it's fun while it lasts.
On top of the short story there is a fun multiplayer mode, though all players (two to four) will need to have their own copy of the game. It's a shame that Big John Games didn't go further and offer up a six or eight player option, the arenas are certainly large enough to warrant the increase in players. Either way, the four players is actually a lot of fun and is probably the best dog fight simulator currently available for the Nintendo DS.
Spitfire Heroes isn't a bad game by any measure, but it's also not as good as it could have been. Even if you can get over the hardware limitations (including, but not limited to, the pop-ups and limited view distance) and the short campaign, you're still left with a shallow game that could have been so much more. The game does occasionally impress with cool cinemas and interesting details, but there just isn't enough here for it to be a must-own title. If you're a big fan of airplane games and you've been wanting a new game for your Nintendo DS then you may want to give this game a try, everybody else should just come back to this when you see it at a discount price.
Page 2 of 1