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Pacific Wings (Switch) artwork

Pacific Wings (Switch) review

"Pacific Wings cloned a small milkshake when the superior medium milkshake was in plain view. Why?!"

Pacific Wings is a World War 2 shooter that takes a page from Capcom's classic arcade title, 1942. You're flying a plane over islands and the ocean, blasting down enemies while dodging their return fire and picking up POW icons to improve your arsenal. Stirring music plays in the background and a high score builds, until finally you go down in a blaze of glory.

Back in the day, I kind of liked 1942. The game I really enjoyed, however, was 1943: The Battle of Midway, which Capcom did a terrific job of porting to the NES. I spent many hours with that title, plugging away at enemy planes, learning their formations, hoping for a few more seconds of power-up duration and exulting as I took down battleships that were armed to the teeth and enormous planes that could endure way more damage than really felt fair. Looking at the screenshots offered on the Nintendo eShop, I dared to dream Pacific Wings would make an effort to replicate that superior experience, rather than mimicking the least exciting entry in the franchise that clearly inspired it. Ah, well!

Pacific Wings (Switch) image

Flying a P-38, you'll appear in the air over a hostile sea. There's no animation depicting you launching from an aircraft carrier, and little fanfare in general. At first, a few weak planes descend toward you. They're easily dispatched with a quick shot. You fire single shots by default, one for each press of the button. There is no auto-fire option, and only one face button produces shots at all. Holding that button doesn't charge a shot, and screen-clearing lightning and such are missing in action. Effective crowd control is not really a thing.

As you continue blasting adversaries and your score slowly climbs, you'll cause the aforementioned POW icons to appear. Picking them up improves the damage your shots inflict. You also gain a wider forward blast, a spread shot and so forth. Eventually, you can fire powerful bursts both ahead of your plane and behind it, which turns your crusade to rid the skies of danger into a manageable task for a good long while. As your score climbs, you also gain extra planes, which extend your run a bit.

Levels bleed one into the next. A number at the top of the screen tracks your progress and makes it easy to tell just how far you've come. If you take damage, you simply experience a downgrade to your weapon, one enhancement at a time. If you take damage while your weapon isn't upgraded, you lose a life. Checkpoints are generously placed. You never lose much progress, and stages are relatively compact. However, there's no option to continue from where you left off when your supply of planes is exhausted, and you can't select more advanced stages as a starting point on subsequent runs.

Pacific Wings (Switch) image

The game features 20 "incredible" stages, without any bosses at the end. There's just a quick confirmation screen when you clear each sequence. Then you can get right back to your heroics. This setup prevents the player from really enjoying a sense of accomplishment, aside from any joy that might come from beating a previous high score. Unfortunately, scores seem only to be considered locally. Your only real opponent is yourself.

A more critical issue is the simplicity of the stages you encounter ahead of the game's halfway point, when the resistance suddenly grows considerably more fierce. Periodically, you receive an alert to "Watch your six!" A plane ascends from the bottom of the screen and occasionally fires shots your way. When the new arrival is large and possesses good armor, it can linger long enough to be a bit of a nuisance, but otherwise there's little in the way of variation. Almost all of the threats you need to worry about come from the top of the screen and they don't bother getting imaginative about it. Instead, they just gradually grow more numerous. By the time you reach level 10, quite a few formations start routinely arriving all at once, and even your most powerful shots do a poor job of clearing the air. When you finally lose a plane, that's all but certainly the near-end of your entire run, no matter how many lives you have in reserve, because it's absurdly difficult at that point to bulk up enough that you can blast your enemies out of the bullet-riddled sky.

So it works like this: roughly the first half of the game is too easy for any but the most novice of shooter fans, while the later half is prohibitively punishing in comparison. There's not really a stage that finds an ideal balance, which means the best the game can hope to do is dance along the line between tedious and aggravating. Replay value is slight or even non-existent, depending on how much you care about amassing high scores no one else will ever see. Long play sessions seem unlikely, also. My hands were getting tired after even my first run, which ended less than gloriously in stage 11.

Pacific Wings (Switch) image

One final element of Pacific Wings worth noting is the retro filter, which causes the screen to resemble an old CRT. It's actually a pretty effective imitation of that effect, I thought, and a perfectly fine way to play. I wouldn't mind seeing the filter applied to other games that try to recapture the depth of yesteryear's classics, and not just their visuals. I also wouldn't have minded seeing the game support a vertical orientation in handheld mode, the way some shmups on the Switch have done in the past, but such a mode wasn't offered. Alas!

If you enjoyed playing games like 1942 back in the day, Pacific Wings is worth a quick look but still difficult to recommend as a purchase unless you find it offered at a friendly discount. Its developers stripped away too many of the expected bells and whistles, baked in too little depth compared to 1943 and other titles that already improved on the classic formula decades ago. As a brief diversion, it's not completely without merit, but here's hoping the game's developer makes a more ambitious attempt at the genre in the future. Oh, and also includes an auto-fire option. That would be really nice.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 07, 2019)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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