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Review: Blazin’ Aces – Retro dogfighting extravaganza

The South African developer, Red Dot Lab, has recently unleashed their retro dogfighting game called Blazin' Aces onto the mobile market. The game is a 2D side-scrolling wonderland of aerial combat that is simple to play, extremely difficult to master and delivers some retro dogfighting goodness onto mobile devices.

Story Campaign – Step into the cockpit of Ace

Blazin’ Aces is set during World War II and follows the aerial exploits of a fighter pilot. The nameless pilot is only known as Ace and the only thing known about him is that he has immense dogfighting skills.

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The story campaign is simplistic in nature, as it follows vague stories of combat exploits by Ace across four different areas, including a farm, the North Pole and Vietnam.

There are four chapters to the campaign, each with four levels, meaning there are 16 levels in total. After each of these levels, the story is driven forward with beautifully done comic illustrations that have a lot of personality to them as they are exceptionally well drawn.

Unfortunately, the story of Ace was not compelling enough for me, as I had no real urge to finish each chapter to get to the next part of the story. The reasons being that although beautiful, the comic illustrations were just not enough to keep me interested as there were no other reward, such as a movie clip or voice acting to keep me engaged.  

There is also a Skirmish mode in which players can jump right into the action, choosing the level of difficulty, ally and enemy numbers and the area in which the player wants to do battle. Although the story is not engaging, the aerial combat is difficult and superbly done.

Controls and gameplay – Fast paced, difficult combat

Blazin’ Aces shines in the combat and control department, delivering fast paced and extremely difficult combat that is easy to understand but an absolute challenge to master.    

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Through a quick tutorial, you learn how to move up and down in the skies with the left and right button, eject, shoot, flip your warplane and use the special abilities. These buttons are all embedded onto your scream for ease of use and their size can be customized to your liking.  

The gameplay is simple in nature, your goal is to shoot down the enemy warplanes while dodging incoming attacks. This is however extremely difficult as the combat is so fast paced and frantic with bullets flying everywhere from both allies and enemies alike.    

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A sense of gravity is ever present. Your warplane does not simply float in the air, you have to constantly press left or right to keep it flying. As the warplane becomes damaged, it becomes harder and harder to control it correctly.  

Thankfully, you can eject your pilot when your warplane is heavily damaged. Ejecting serves two roles. Firstly, doing so will let your little pilot parachute down to the ground and run to a base, which is a barn in the farm stage. Reaching the barn will let you launch a brand new plane. The second reason ejecting from a damage warplane is important is that it denies your enemy points, acquired by shooting you down.  

There is no concept of ‘lives’ in Blazin’ Aces. Victory is achieved by hitting the point limit, for example 200, before your enemy does. Points are gained for destroying or damaging enemy combatants either with or without allies present.    

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There are a ton of power-ups available in the form of different types of weapons, such as a toxic cloud, heat-seeking and much more. These power-ups can be attained through flying over them over them, essentially picking them up. After mastering flying and dodging, these power-ups open up a wealth of ways in which to both dispatch your enemies and get them off your tail.  

Adding to the difficulty is that you can not just fly around and continuously shoot, as your primary weapon will start to overheat. The ability to flip your warplane adds even more depth to combat. It is generally used to avoid heat-seeking missiles that would otherwise destroy your warplane and can not be dodged by moving up or down. The increased difficulty comes into play when you flip your warplane, controls for going up and down are now switched.

All these aspects coupled with a continuous sense of gravity makes handling your warplane both fun and extremely difficult. Unfortunately, the only thing you will be shooting is other warplanes, which is a bit of a disappointment. I Would have loved the ability to blow up a few bases on the ground for extra points or have enemy turrets on the ground to avoid, which would have added even more depth to the combat.

Graphics and sound – A minimalistic retro look

Blazin’ Aces assets are minimalistic in nature, offering a retro look and feel in both graphical and sound departments.

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The backgrounds, of which there are four, are fairly plain, with very little to speak of animation wise. Any type of movement is limited to the warplanes, their attacks and the floating power-ups that parachute down throughout the level.

It can be argued that the minimalistic visuals are there to keep players focused on the fast paced combat. However, a few churning windmills in the farm level for example, would not have hurt at all.

My biggest gripe comes when you get to the end of a screen. Rather than scrolling with the warplane you control, the view completely switches every time you get to the edge of the screen. This is a bit annoying, as you can not really fight on the edge of the screen at all, breaking combat immersion in the process. The warplanes are also just a bit too small, as I found myself squinting at the screen in order to hit the enemy targets, which I became used to after a few hours of play.

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The sound is of a high quality, as the effects are in sync with your warplane as it stutters and fires with realism.  

Coupled with the great sound effects comes a great orchestral masterpiece that sounds as if it should be in a dramatic World War II movie that fits in perfectly with the fast paced nature of the combat. Unfortunately, following the minimalistic nature of the graphics, there is only one song across all four campaign chapters.                  

Closing Thoughts

Blazin’ Aces delivers an extremely difficult, retro dogfighting goodness that is a joy to play, yet it could have been so much more. The story is just not engaging enough to keep a player interested, which is a shame as the comic illustrations are brilliantly done.

The combat is so difficult that it might put off a lot less skilled players, yet I found it to be fun and challenging, definitely being the star of Blazin’ Aces. It could have been even more engaging by adding a few buildings or turrets to blow up, which would have delivered even more depth to the gameplay.

Minimalistic graphics and only one song further encourage the thought that the game could have been that much more. However, for a very cheap price and no In App Purchases, the game is definitely worth a shot and does deliver a fun mobile gaming experience.

Blazin’ Aces has been recently released for Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices. The game costs R10 to download and can be found on the Playstore here, iTunes here and Windows Phone store here. It requires a small download of around 54mb as well as Android OS version 2.1 and up, so it works on a wide variety of devices. During my time with the game I used my Nexa Orion 10.1, a powerful yet affordable Quad Core 10 Inch Tablet to enjoy some retro dog-fighting goodness.

Score: 7/10

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