Red Wings: Aces of the Sky

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: All in! Games
Developer: All in! Games
Release Date: May 21, 2020

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Switch Review - 'Red Wings: Aces of the Sky'

by Andreas Salmen on July 7, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Red Wings: Aces of the Sky is a third-person aerial combat game about WW1 where you get to experience a unique mix of historic events and over-the-top, comic book-stylized adventures.

There used to be a time when war-themed aerial combat games were a dime a dozen. For example, Blazing Angels offered up some epic WWII dogfight battles on the Nintendo Wii almost 15 years ago. Since then, I've had a considerable soft spot for atmospheric and epic action games with explosions and historic realism. Red Wings: Aces of the Sky aims to re-create that experience.

Set during WWI, Red Wings has players joining or opposing the squadron of the famed Red Baron by choosing the Triple Alliance or Triple Entente campaign. Red Wings is an arcade action game at heart, with simple mechanics and satisfying but repetitive gameplay. I was surprised at how much fun I had rushing through the clouds and making sure my opponents don't make it home for dinner. It can't quite keep that rush of excitement going until the end, though. While Red Wings will be released on all major platforms in 2020, we are taking a look at the Nintendo Switch version.

Red Wings focuses on the adventures of Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the Red Baron. While we can choose a side in WWI, both campaigns play out similarly while portraying the events from a different perspective. The story isn't particularly deep and chooses to focus on individual pilots rather than politics and events in the overarching world war. Ultimately, that decision serves the game tone quite well. Story beats are told with comic-style sequences that match the game aesthetics and provide some structure for the 50 levels. Once we have chosen a side and a plane (there are ten, each with different skins), we can take to the skies — to force other pilots out of it.

If you've played any arcade game with planes, Red Wings will not pose a challenge. The left stick is for navigation, the right controls your throttle, and the triggers zoom and shoot your guns. The game has aim assist, so it's usually easy to snap onto planes in front of you and pump their hulls full of lead . The only thing you may have to adjust is your speed, since increasing the throttle restricts your maneuverability. Once you get the hang of these simple mechanics, you're set to shoot down some airplanes and zeppelins.

The simplicity is somewhat freeing. While our objectives can change slightly, we mostly fly in circles around clouds (which also provide cover for you and enemies) and shoot at everything that moves. Every enemy craft has a visible health bar, and some may even have additional armor plating that we can chip away at until they go up in flames. I don't want to undersell the gameplay because there are a few other mechanics. The plane uses fuel, making it necessary to refuel if battles go on for too long. In each stage, there are several little gates to fly through that immediately refill both your fuel and health, so you may want to be aware of their locations so you don't drop out of the sky. Granted, it's not rooted in realism, and it's one of many mechanics that are clearly on the arcade side of the spectrum. Honestly, the game is better for it, since these battles rarely last longer than a few minutes. It's easy to drop in, blow up some stuff, and leave.

In battle, you can rely on special skills. The four face buttons on the controller can be used to trigger one of four special abilities. We can perform a barrel roll, which makes us vulnerable for a few moments; take a sharp 180-degree turn; call in a squadron to help out momentarily; or assassinate pilots of weakened airplanes with a bullet to the head. All of these abilities are available from the get-go and can be used with a short cooldown period in between. As we progress, we can upgrade the skills to be more powerful and have a shorter cooldown period. The barrel roll and sharp turns are useful, but I rarely used the finisher ability and squad assistance, so they're not as helpful as they could have been.

Since Red Wings is an arcade shooter, there is a high score system. Every downed enemy adds points to your score and starts or extends a point combo. The combos are vital, especially in later stages if you want to net the full three-star rating. Thankfully, the combo system is relatively forgiving and makes it easy to string together kills. Once you shoot down a plane, the combo is kept alive as long as you shoot at and hit enemies. If a short period has passed without hitting any opponents, the combo resets. All in all, the game is a super snappy and solid arcade shooter. While I found the gameplay to be all right, it's a decent experience with no major down sides. It does become a tad too simple and repetitive rather quickly, since there isn't too much variety.

Mission structures usually revolve around taking down key targets, all targets, or defending your own, which can become a bit tiresome. Red Wings attempts to introduce more variety with fuel missions (essentially checkpoint races) and bombing missions that have us bomb targets from a top-down perspective while dodging incoming fire. Technically, this can be considered "variety," but the fuel and bombing missions aren't nearly as fun as the air combat ones. There are a handful of different enemy vehicles, but they don't provide major gameplay differences. We face off against planes, including those with heightened firepower and recharging shields, and zeppelins, which can call in reinforcements if they're not taken out in time. It's the bare minimum of enemy types, and battles can feel stale since enemies seem to rather grow in number rather than increased difficulty.

We can spend our earned stars on a skill tree to upgrade skills or passive abilities, such as the size of our fuel tank and how quickly our guns overheat. To get all of the stars in all of the missions, you will have to play and achieve everything. That also means that upgrades carry over throughout the whole game, regardless of mission or game mode. An additional perk of getting all stars and achievements is that you'll be able to unlock about 10 authentic war planes and some extra skins to shoot through the heavens in style.

Once the campaign is over, Red Wings provides a survival mode, where we endure waves of enemies within a time limit for the highest score. It's a short and challenging mode if you go for a higher difficulty, and there's plenty of room to improve your score by using the combo system and holding your ground. It's not different from the main missions, and chances are that you probably have little desire to fight even more of the same battles over and over again after you've completed the campaign. It's a nice addition that provides more content if you're looking for it. Another nice addition is offline co-op play, which can be activated in any game mode if you want to play a game with a friend. If you want to do one better, you can even use motion controls with detached Joy-Cons if you prefer that option over the usual controls. It functions all right, but the issues with the accuracy and responsiveness don't make this a good alternative to regular controls.

Looking at the visuals, Red Wings looks more than solid. The cel-shaded visual style suits it rather well and makes the game look stylish. It has a mobile phone game vibe, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that everything looks and runs well. Apart from some stutters in the main menu, the game ran smoothly, and the clean, colorful aesthetic helped to smooth over the few rough edges. Loading times are over in a snap, so jumping into a game feels almost instantaneous. The game falls flat in what it actually showcases with its visuals. Stages can be bland and boring; with the exception of some rough landmarks like rivers, there usually isn't much to look at except for clouds and exploding planes. Like the gameplay, it's solidly decent. It does what it should, but it rarely goes out of its way to excel in any manner. It is a colorful, fun and ultimately forgettable experience.

Red Wings: Aces in the Sky surprised me. I went in with low expectations and found a fun arcade shooter that does a lot of things well. It works as advertised and can provide some fun but short-lived action moments that detail the story of the Red Baron during WWI. Fans of the subject matter will certainly get a few decent hours out of the game, but the experience is severely held back by a lack of variety in almost all areas. If you're not into WWI or arcade shooters, Red Wings probably won't keep you entertained for too long, but it is a solid experience that does most things well enough for a quick rush of adrenaline on your Switch.

Score: 6.5/10

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