Developer: Smart Bomb Interactive
Release Date: October 24, 2006
The saga of small white aviation-crazed beagle vs. German flying ace has its roots deep in cultural history. Through song and comic and animated feature, famed World War I flying ace Snoopy has hounded his eternal nemesis, the leader of the Flying Circus, the evil Red Baron. There's even been a prior title for the Macintosh way back in the '80s, and a more recent fan follow-up game floating around the net. What we have here, though, is the first attempt at a recent title to carry on the epic story, and y'know what? It looks like it's coming along okay.
Now, by "coming along okay," I don't mean things are looking perfect. As a matter of fact, the weakest part of Snoopy vs. The Red Baron is how the game looks. From the pre-rendered opening videos to the in-game graphics, things are looking decidedly ... chunky here, but hopefully, the textures will be beefed up in the final version. Charlie Brown's head isn't even quite spherical, and the overall effect is that of the Lego Snoopy play set. Still, you're controlling a flying dog, so it's not as if photorealism is a high priority. Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about what's good here.
Luckily, what's good here includes a healthy dose of good Peanuts-brand humor. The framework story is pretty classic: Snoopy and his typewriter are at it again, writing up a WWI Flying Ace novel. He's gotten Charlie Brown and Linus to pre-read it for him, with Charlie Brown dismayed that he's been written into the script as the janitor of the flight base. This provides a good excuse to go ahead and take familiar folks out of context. Glasses-girl Marcie gets filled in as the flight instructor who walks you through the tutorial, while Pig-Pen mans the mechanic shop. Even Snoopy's longtime companion Woodstock shows up as a power-up, acting as a "guide" who can help you fly missiles directly to their targets.
Because of the whole "novel within a game" setting, you won't be fighting the German Luftwaffe above famous historical battles. Instead, you'll be battling the Red Baron's Flying Circus above fictional islands and seas. This gives you a decent excuse to do some really improbable things, like battle giant drill machines and evil walking tanks to protect the vital supply line of the root beer factory. (Of course quaffing root beers gives you more health. Don't be silly. You're Snoopy, here.) I am a bit confused by where Snoopy is getting his World War I information, but I can't fault the results. They're decidedly wacky.
You'll be flying the famous Sopwith Camel of course, as well as a mix of made-up and real biplanes and triplanes. Meanwhile, the weapons you'll be using are distinctly fictional. From the previously mentioned Woodstock-guided missiles, you'll also arm yourself with fireworks and water balloons from the start of the game. By picking up cash while flying missions, you can purchase extra Pig-Pen-designed weaponry back at the base. My personal favorite is the pumpkin launcher, which sends hefty farm-grown fruit soaring at the bad guys at an incredible velocity. I can't help but imagine that it makes Linus cry when you use it, though.
For the most part, the flying missions are pretty straightforward, and Snoopy has a wide variety of mid-air tricks he can pull. The closest analogue I can think of is, "What if someone crossed All Range mode from Starfox 64 with the flight engine from Crimson Skies?" If that doesn't mean anything to you, picture a stage design where you can roam pretty much anywhere within a set boundary. Additionally, you can pull off loops and whorls and spins with just a simple range of button presses. There's a fine tutorial mode that lays out all of this for you in simple terms. Just a tap of a button will have you doing Immelman turns in no time.
You've also got yourself a fine multiplayer mode. You can go head-to-head with a friend by picking from the lineup of famous Peanuts characters. Everybody from Charlie Brown to Sally to Lucy is available, and they dug deep into the barrel of back characters to pull out folks like Rerun Van Pelt. Everyone has a unique plane with its own stats, so there are no "clone" characters. If you like multiplayer dogfights, here you are.
With that said, there are still a couple of downsides to explore. For one thing, there's the fact that you'll hardly need all those fancy twists and turns that you can pull off. It's really difficult to actually take a lot of damage in Snoopy vs. The Red Baron because root beer pickups are incredibly prolific, and the enemies often have really bad aim or are distracted by other flyers. This is moderated somewhat by the time limit on some missions, but even that is rather generous. Accordingly, the game can feel really easy for adult players, though I have little doubt that it's tuned perfectly for younger gamers.
The other problem will grate on the ears of everyone listening, and that's the voice acting. It may just be that I'm used to some of the classic actors, but some of the voices that turn up are really painful. Marcie in particular sounds like a five-year-old actress phonetically reading lines she doesn't understand. Other actors are a mixed bag; Linus sounds pretty good, but Lucy is flinch-inducing at times. It's hard to tell if this is just me, or if they really are that hard on the ears, but I'll call it a downside because ... er, it's my preview.
Snoopy vs. The Red Baron looks like it might just be a lot of fun for young gamers, although it's not going to hold up for nostalgia-charged adults. The easy flight model and the effortless gameplay make it good choice for new players. If the graphics were a little less blocky, this could be a great game to watch your younger sibling play. Look for it in stores soon, and dust off your old Royal Guardsmen album until then.
Snoopy fired once, and he fired twice, and that Bloody Red Baron went spinning out of sight.