Anime fans might well have heard of The Sky Crawlers before. Directed by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor 2), the film is an adaptation of Hiroshi Mori's novel of the same name, and has been well received by critics and anime fans alike. Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is the love child of said anime and the Ace Combat series; a strange amalgamation of Japanese story-telling and Ace Combat-esque gameplay. It's certainly a niche, but there's a small portion of the Wii demographic that has been starved of just such a game for a long time. Innocent Aces is a game that fills the gaping hole in the console's otherwise fully stocked library of games. But does it do the genre justice?
Set in an alternate history where wars are arranged to alleviate the tension that comes with peace, the game follows a group of young pilots known as the Cougar Squadron. The story takes place before the events of the film, combining scenes from the anime with all new animations designed specifically for the game. Although newcomers to the world of The Sky Crawlers might not invest in the character driven melodrama, fans of the anime will relish the recurring characters, themes and underlying tone of the refreshingly unconventional anime.
If the fact that the title is developed by the Project Aces team hasn't already given the game away already, Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is a combat-centric flight-sim that takes advantage of the Wii's motion controls. Each of the seventeen levels takes the form of an aerial dogfight, where WWII themed fighter planes take to the skies to eliminate an enemy threat. It's a far cry from the modern aircraft and technology of the Ace Combat series. Don't expect any lock-ons or heat seeking missiles here; this game is all about your skill in the cockpit.
Unfortunately, a fatally flawed control scheme makes skill incredibly hard to come by. The game suggests that players should hold the Wii Remote in the left hand, and Nunchuck in the right – the complete opposite of what feels natural and comfortable. This is done with good reason, however, and attempts to replicate the controls of a real plane using the Wii's unique controls. Acceleration is handled well enough; a simple tilt of the Wii Remote (your throttle) giving the plane a burst of speed. The B-button is used for braking, although bringing the Wii Remote back to its original position is just as effective. Hoping to emulate the joystick of a real plane, the Nunchuck can be tilted to turn the plane left and right, with the Z button reserved for firing. This is where the controls break down. Instead of using the analogue stick that would have made everything nice and easy, Namco has instead used motion sensing to make the controls as realistic as possible.
I expect it becomes more bearable over time, but after a frustrating few hours I refused to put myself through the torture of it all any longer. After ditching the Wii Remote and Nunchuck in favour of the GameCube controller, the game became far more enjoyable. With the controls mastered, the game proves that the flying and shooting at its core are solid. Don't expect the same level of realism found in Ace Combat, however, as Innocent Aces is based on an anime after all. Reflecting this notion are Tactical Manoeuvre Commands (TMCs). When in the appropriate range of an enemy, the TMC gauge at the bottom of the screen will fill through three levels. By pressing the A button (in the default control scheme), your plane will automatically swoop behind the enemy, putting you in the perfect position to blow them out of the sky. The fuller the TMC gauge, the better position you'll be in to take out the enemy.