Release Date: March 20, 2007
Without a doubt, the one third party who's supported the Wii, since even before its release, has been Ubisoft. It's been an interesting relationship that's had its not-so-good moments (Red Steel) but has also yielded wonderful experiences (Rayman: Raving Rabbids). Since the Wii's launch, Ubisoft's been regaling the little white box with game after game of varying quality. The latest in this shotgun approach is a port of their last-gen sleeper hit, Blazing Angels: Squadrons of World War II.
Blazing Angels is pretty much the same game you've played on just about every other platform for a couple of years now. It's incredible, really; this game really has been everywhere you can think of that isn't a portable system and has shown little sign of stopping. (Fortunately, now that the original's been milked for all it's worth, a sequel was recently announced, so we get to do this dance all over again.) Still, for the few who may be uninitiated, you play as an Allied pilot who befriends a trio of other Allied pilots during World War II. As a fictional squad of "Angels," the four of you take part in several WWII air battles and are instrumental in turning the tides and allowing for Allied victory. You'll face off against the Germans, the Japanese, and even forces of nature as you dogfight in the sky, storm against enemy defenses and generally use your machine guns and bombs to kick a whole lot of wartime butt.
Why are your friends so important? Here, they give you special powers to supplement the (well-done) arcade-style combat. One aggressively hunts down your adversaries, another draws enemies away from you so that you can better concentrate on your objectives, and the last heals your ship via a small mini-game that tests your button-tapping reflexes. All three provide lots of chatter as well, heightening the game's atmosphere and immersion along with the dramatic music and combat sound effects.
All of this is conveyed through graphics that do the situations justice; plentiful targets fly through the sky, shoot tons of bullets, and contain consistent A.I. with minimal slowdown to be had. Though the controls are not true flight sim, dozens of WWII-era planes are available to be used, each with its own skills and weaknesses. They even control differently depending on their ratings.
Most of us have survived the skies of World War II using traditional control sticks and buttons by this point. Does the addition of Wii controls make this worth buying all over again? Not quite, but it does make it easily worth a rent. Even if this largely is a port, it's easy to tell Ubisoft tried their best to make this version as accessible as possible.
There are a number of control configurations. If you find yourself uncomfortable with motion control and absolutely must stick to buttons, there's a Classic mode that somehow manages to map all of your plane's basic functions to the Wiimote turned sideways. It's pretty convoluted, but it works, however awkwardly. However, like most Wii gamers, odds are you signed up to this outfit to see what motion-sensing can do for you.
Motion-sensing, as you would guess, steers your plane. You can play the game one-handed with the Wiimote for steering, much like the default control setting of Heatseeker. Again, it's sort of awkward and convoluted. Fret not, however: the true fun and flexibility comes from using the Nunchuk in cooperation with the Wiimote. In this configuration, the Nunchuk essentially becomes your flight stick. You can move and tilt it in any direction, and your onscreen plane will mimic your movements with surprising responsiveness and accuracy.
With steering handled by the Nunchuk, the analog stick becomes your throttle. Pushing up will accelerate your plane, and pushing down will decelerate it. There's a bit of a learning curve to be had since people are obviously used to having analog sticks fully control movement, but once this hump is surpassed, it's hard to not lose yourself in the experience, leaning and rocking with the Nunchuk's motions as you struggle to make a sharp turn, or pull up in an emergency. It's exhilarating stuff, and in the end, it's what saves the Wii version of Blazing Angels from being yet another lackluster, awkward port.
That's not to say that this control scheme doesn't have its drawbacks. It's impossible for an entire human arm to have as much reflex capability as a single thumb. Get ready for lots of flailing around and re-righting yourself until you get used to it all. There will always be a small amount of response lag, both due to the controller, and the extra work that must be done to control the plane with your entire wrist. Still, it's worth it.
Another drawback that this game has is the fact that since the Wii doesn't have its online components functional yet, there's no online play or even system link in this game. This means that full-screen multiplayer dogfights just aren't possible. The amount of potential dashed here is depressing to think about. With its fairly simple controls, multiplayer Blazing Angels would have made for a pretty neat group game.
Even with all of the setbacks plaguing it, though, this Wii port of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of World War II has it where it counts. It adds motion-sensing functionality without sacrificing the fun — it, in fact, manages to enhance it in some cases. If you've managed to avoid playing Blazing Angels up until now, well, I honestly can't see why. It's actually a pretty good time, all told. Odds are, though, that you already have. This version joins the Xbox 360 and PS3 as the versions of choice to try out (two for graphics, the other for the unique gameplay). It's good to see that the new generation of consoles can make an old game fresh again in their own ways. Now that we have, though, can we see some new material now, Ubisoft? Please, and thank you.
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