A world at war… wait no, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is an aerial combat game that takes place when the world is totally at peace. You step in the cockpit as Lynx, a rookie who joined the Rostock Corporation, an enterprise that stages battles to make the public comfortable with the absence of tension.
Does the setting sound familiar? It should if you watched the novel turned film Sky Crawlers. While the film centers around Kildren, seemingly immortal pilots that look like kids, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces takes place before those events and expects you watched the film before popping the game in your Wii. Flesh and blood humans are still hired during the game’s timeline while companies are testing Kildren. Compared to other dogfighting games, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is an elevation above when it comes down to story. During missions there are fully voiced intercom chats that personify your allies. Kou, codenamed “Sprite”, arrogantly says “they were brought down by their own incompetence” when an enemy is shot down. Maumi, Lynx’s self proclaimed rival, says “it’s so beautiful… all of the blue and white,” on her first mission, demonstrating how green she is to the skies. These bits supplement the story, which is told in anime cutscenes between missions.
The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces goes a bit beyond the shoot every thing in sight formula too. In one mission you have to chase down cargo planes before they drop supplies. In another mission, you have to target gunships. You could use guns, but before the mission starts you have a chance to pick and customize a plane. Each plane has a different set of special weapons such as napalm bombs, torpedoes, or a rapid fire gun, in addition to a standard machine gun. Bombs work much better once you get used to diving down and pulling up before you belly flop into the ocean.
If you opt for motion control, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is a game you have to settle in to. Before you start the first mission, a mundane tutorial goes explains the controls. Don’t skip it. It’s essential to get the basics of down since the unique control scheme created by Project Aces has a learning curve. The remote, held in your left hand, acts as a throttle. Point the remote to the ceiling to accelerate and hold it parallel to the floor to slow down. B acts as your break button and it has a dangerous side effect – stalling. Hold B too long and you have to desperately get level the plane out while plummeting back to terra firma. The nunchuk, not the analog stick, controls the plane. Tilting it up, down, left, and right makes the plane climb, dive, and turn. So, the motion for pulling the plane up after a sharp dive is frantically lifting the remote and nunchuck.
Each plane has its own feel to adjust to, as well. There is a huge difference between the clunky and unresponsive camera equipped spy plane used for a recon mission and Rostock’s prototype fighter. When you get your hands on the prototype jet for a test mission where Maumi and Lynx shoot paintballs at each other, you have to gently tilt the nunchuck instead of swinging it because the plane so sensitive. Project Aces left an option for classic controls via a Gamecube controller or Classic Controller, but after trying those I went back to the motion controls since that setup is more fun to play with.
The controls take time to get used to, but you’ll fly like a “cheetah”, Lynx’s code name when he gets promoted to captain, in no time. Part of the reason is the most complicated movements, somersaults and U-turns are done with manual controls. You can flip through a list of advanced aerial techniques with the nunchuck’s analog stick. Also, the most advanced maneuver where you flip behind an enemy jet in prime position to attack is done by simply staying within range and pressing A when a meter fills up. In the later stages, I relied on using TMCs (short for tactical maneuver command) to shoot enemies down. Spiraling behind an enemy after following them is just way too convenient.
While not as intense as a cave game, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces makes players feel like an ace pilot. The cinematic style tactical maneuvers, the progressive way you learn to fly with motion control, and having your allies depend on your to win the battle for them are elements that add to the excitement. You even get to rescue your allies Star Fox style by gunning down planes chasing them! Replays of missions can be saved so you can show off your flying skills to friends – from your point of view and the enemy’s.