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Spitfire Heroes: Tales of the Royal Air Force (DS) artwork

Spitfire Heroes: Tales of the Royal Air Force (DS) review

"It’s a shame. This game reeks of wasted potential. While the World War II setting is certainly appealing, being forced to take down the Germans with a single plane isn’t. There could have been so much more here – tactical bombings, NPC allies, you name it – but you’ve just got some wings, a couple of machine guns, and a prayer."

It’s the humming that gets to you. Not the cold seeping into your poorly insulated aircraft. Not the dull ache in your hands from gripping the controls all night, either. They train you for stuff like that. What they don’t teach you in combat avionics, however, is how to deal with that damned humming. It’s the sound of the plane’s engine whirring itself to exhaustion. Its endless droning is both hypnotic and headache inducing; a person could fall asleep or driven insane listening to it. But not you; you’ve got too much riding on your shoulders to be distracted now. The German army is on the verge of conquering Western Europe, and England is the only thing standing in its way. As a member of the Royal Air Force, you’ve been given a nearly impossible task: save the country from annihilation.

There’s just one problem, though: you’re the only member of the Royal Air Force.

Needless to say, there’s something wrong with this picture. The summer of 1940 was a dire time for England, but sending out a lone fighter plane against the entire German Luftwaffe is beyond ludicrous. That’s one of the many liberties that Spitfire Heroes takes with the context of its setting; World War II buffs will despise the game’s utter lack of historical accuracy, and gamers aren’t going to appreciate the overused one-plane-versus-everyone plot. Such a concept may fly with a regular shooter, but it had no place in game that attempts to reenact actual warfare. The fact that the game tries to take itself seriously (the black and white wartime footage before each mission is a nice touch) makes everything seem even more ridiculous.

At least the missions are more believable. You’ll be whisked away to a 3D rendering of the English Channel to wreak havoc on the invading German forces. You’ll raze ground troops, sink naval blockades, protect bases, and a handful of other assignments. Despite the setting, the game’s missions are simplistic and straightforward; completing objectives usually boils down to destroying every enemy on the battlefield. Since the opposing units are pinpointed on the map on the Touch Screen, finding all your targets is breeze. Actually succeeding in the missions, however, is another story entirely; since you’re never given detailed instructions, you’ll never know the finer details of your objectives. You could be commanded to defend an airfield by eliminating bombers, but you’re not told how many bombs can be dropped before the game deems you a failure. You won’t find out about these crucial details until you’ve either suddenly found yourself staring at a Game Over screen or have miraculously met the hidden mission objectives.

That’s assuming you don’t kill yourself every few seconds, however. The controls are simple; keeping a finger on the shoulder button ensures an endless stream of machine gun fire, the D-Pad alters your trajectory, and the some of the other buttons govern the plane’s acceleration. The problem is that the controls are far too clunky to be useful. Changing direction and altitude – two of the most crucial aspects to aerial combat – are practically a chore to pull off. Many of your targets can only been seen at short-range distances; by the time you get something in your tiny aiming reticule, there will be barely enough time for you to pull up from your descent. Until you’ve gotten a handle of the controls, most of your assaults will end up with you missing the targets completely or crash landing. The same goes with fighting defensively; by the time you realize an enemy aircraft is shooting at you, you won’t be able to maneuver enough to make a difference. You could always try barrel rolling by mashing the appropriate buttons, but it merely gives your enemies more areas to shoot. While the game conveniently displays the status of your plane with a color-coded diagram on the Touch Screen, it won’t take long before you go down in a fiery mass of melting metal.

You shouldn’t rely on the Touch Screen anyway. Aside from the bland map display, everything on it is a waste of space. It’s supposed to be a mock-up of a plane’s interior, yet none of the instruments there are useful. The three glowing red buttons could have been used to drop bombs, yet they only serve as a reminder of how many continues you have left to waste before the game forces you to start over. Both the speed and altitude gauges are inaccurate or unresponsive to the plane’s movements. Even the shiny throttle stick isn’t important; since you use the regular buttons to alter your speed, there’s little reason for throttle to be even featured. Such inherent uselessness makes the game even more irritating.

But once you’ve learned to ignore the Touch Screen, you’re going to realize that the top screen isn’t much better. While Spitfire Heroes attempts to recreate World War II battles as a three-dimensional flight simulator, it does little to convey the chaos and violence of the time. The machine gun fire and explosions are a mess of garbled sound effects. While you’re given control over the speed of the aircraft, utterly slow pacing makes your velocity seem pointless. Most of the missions involve you flying over flat and poorly rendered terrain; there may the occasional hill, clump of trees, or ruined city to defend, but most of the maps are just endless pixilated expanses of blotchy grasslands and ocean waves. None of the vehicles are easy on the eyes; tanks are little more than a pile of rumbling blocks and battleships are just a bunch of gray masses with the occasional blackened spots convey realism. The only things remotely detailed are the aircraft you’ll pilot; most of them sport the colors, designs, and symbols found on the real planes from the war. While Spitfire Heroes includes gallery of the aircraft and some historical background for them, it adds little to the game’s appeal.

It’s a shame. This game reeks of wasted potential. While the World War II setting is certainly appealing, being forced to take down the Germans with a single plane isn’t. There could have been so much more here – tactical bombings, NPC allies, you name it – but you’ve just got some wings, a couple of machine guns, and a prayer. The missions are poorly explained, essentially leaving you in the dark until you’ve either succeeded or failed. The controls kill much of the entertainment value; the game is barely playable, and having to struggle with the D-Pad is nowhere near as fun or effective as guiding your plane with a stylus. With so many little flaws and useless features being presented, it won’t take long for the game to wear out its welcome. So do yourself a favor and ignore this title. Spitfire Heroes has crashed and burned.

disco's avatar
Freelance review by Justin Boot (April 01, 2008)

Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.

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