Developer: Smart Bomb Interactive
Release Date: October 24, 2006
I wanted to start off this review by noting that Charles Schulz probably would have hated Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, regardless of how fun it might be, but that isn't true. Bill Waterson, of Calvin and Hobbes fame, would have hated to see Calvin and Hobbes: Roarin' Rampage come into existence, but that's because he had more respect for his creations than Schulz did. That isn't to say that Schulz did not have affection for the Peanuts cast; he just enjoyed the checks he could cash thanks to licensing while going about his daily strip just like he would, licensing deals or not. If Schulz didn't like something, he wouldn't mention it unless he was asked. If he were asked, he probably would have said, "I didn't have anything to do with that silly little game, and I don't plan on taking it any further than that. Kids might like it. I don't care."
He's passed away, but just in case you weren't sure, you heard it on WorthPlaying first: Charles Schulz doesn't care about Snoopy vs. The Red Baron one way or the other.
I, personally, was incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of a Peanuts game, but much less so than Snoopy's appearance in MetLife ads, and much, much less so than the idea of seeing Calvin urinating on an automobile manufacturer or football team logo. But then, who is this game for? I hate to pigeonhole a title as being for a particular age group, especially as a guy who buys new superhero comics every single Wednesday afternoon. That's a medium that is considered to be for children by probably the majority of the United States, despite "mature" respect for characters from said medium when presented on a movie screen. Most of the content is directed at the 18-35 age group these days because we're the only people buying. It's the same way anybody should be able to play Mario, or Sonic, these mascot-driven things that should work for all age groups.
Unfortunately, this game doesn't have that flexibility. I hate to be this way, but Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron is for children, and perhaps for a parent to sit and play with their kids. You won't be holed up in your apartment with a bottle of whiskey at your side playing Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, and, let's face it, if you're reading this review, you're probably not part of the target audience for this game.
What it comes down to is, do our opinions really matter, as long as a six-year-old kid could enjoy this thing?
Yes, they do, because we don't want our children to spend their time with mindless trash. Snoopy vs. The Red Baron is colorful, has recognizable characters from, frankly, a philosophically complex series of strips (whether or not you noticed it), and it couldn't be better for your children to play. You won't invite your friends over to play a few rounds, but your kids might, and you can rest easy knowing that they are playing something that isn't edutainment, so they might actually enjoy it. It isn't going to present a lot of content that will go straight over their heads, and most importantly, it will challenge them. It might even challenge you a little bit, and that's exactly what a children's game should do! If children aren't stretching their brains far past anybody's expectations, they aren't doing enough. Snoopy vs. The Red Baron will challenge them enough for that.
It isn't long, and there isn't a huge amount going on. There aren't enemies swarming the screen; this isn't Starfox. There are only six stages to play through, and they're bigger and longer than you'd think, but still. Six. There are over 60 missions within these settings, but as for the actual range of content, remember that number: six..
The nice thing is, many of the locations are taken straight from the comics, and while the presentation of the Peanuts gang isn't as classy as the original take (would anybody expect it to be?), it's fun to glance around at various recognizable locales, many of which take me right back to my childhood. Admittedly, seeing these characters and places again prompted me to run to my local comic book store and pick up the first of the Fantagraphics collected Peanuts books, just to see everything the way it was meant to be seen. I hadn't read many of these strips since before my teenaged years, and it was a great trip back. It's funny the feelings a budget title with decidedly budget graphics can still produce when doing things just so.
It does feel strange to be shooting down zeppelins and biplanes as Snoopy while Lucy orders you to rend everything in sight, but it couldn't have worked any other way for a video game. Perhaps that's that part of me that remains uncomfortable with this game. These adventures were a part of Snoopy's imagination, and the developer did not communicate this as well as I would have liked. I'm not sure if I want to see the biplane in a literal sense, all the time. I want to see more of the doghouse and Snoopy's ears flapping in the air. I want to see something completely surprising, really, something I wouldn't have thought of, to represent what is really going on here.
While I was playing the game, a friend of mine recoiled at the sound of the characters' voices, just because they didn't come close to replicating the original voices. I disagree. Those old voices were done by children who didn't even know the words they were saying — they had things spelled out so they could pronounce them, and it showed. That was the charm, at the time. Things are different now, and those old cartoons are decades old, so there shouldn't be any reason to attempt matching up with those old sounds. Generic kids' cartoon music is much worse and present here, mind you, than newer, technically better children's voices.
I'm torn with Snoopy vs. The Red Baron. Kids might love it, although I'm sure I'm just idealizing and they would balk if they opened up a birthday gift that they thought should have been San Andreas or Halo 2 instead. You might be able to sit down for a few minutes of a two-player dogfight, or show your kid around and impress them with your incredible flight skills, or just sit back and watch them enjoy themselves with something that is easy to support. Still, this is yet another cutesy game that is veiling the usual raison d'etre of video games — killing — and isn't anything new. Peanuts characters should soften the blow of the dropping biplanes, but really, maybe you should pick up a later volume of those complete Peanuts collections, and show your children a true work of art.