Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy+
Fight and Flight

By Seán O'Sullivan - March 4th, 2015

All images are 2D representations of the 3D images.

Fighter jets are cool. This is pretty much the thesis statement of Access Games’ Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy+, a Nintendo 3DS game that conspires to get you into cool looking jets and doing bad-ass stuff as quickly as possible. This is a portable distillation of the stalwart aerial dogfighting franchise, but how much of the arcade thrills can one have on a five inch screen?

It’s commendable how little preamble there is before getting down to brass tacks – the game opens with the player in the air on their first mission, with the dialogue driving the story while also underscoring the key control concepts. Over the course of the first few missions you’re gradually introduced to increasingly taxing air-to-air and air-to-ground battles, as well as to the unlock system, which makes the player earn points in-mission and spend them on planes and upgraded weaponry after.

Air-to-air combat is more about positioning than it is accuracy, and Ace Combat is perhaps a bit too pushy with the amount of hand-holding it provides. Dogfighting can be thrilling as you chase after an enemy, peppering them with machine gun fire while trying to get missile-lock – but Ace Combat’s “action maneuver” feature robs some of the fun, by allowing the player to tap a button and get a zoomed-in, nose-cone-to-tail-pipe view of the enemy’s craft. The rhythm of combat becomes more about filling up this meter, watching the “awesome” stunt that pulls your plane up to the opponent, and then watching a spectacular explosion while affirming text like “BULLSEYE!” appears on screen. It’s effective, mostly satisfying feedback, but it’s a shame that the flashy moves on-screen can’t be pulled off during normal game-play control.

The graphics are pretty great on the 3DS.

The mission design does just about enough to keep things fresh, sending you on escort missions, bombing runs, assault runs, forcing you to fly through a canyon, to name a few (it effectively empties the grabbag of “things to do in $200,000,000 planes”). One of my favourite missions was a good ol’ fashioned slobberknocker, in which the player is outgunned, outnumbered, and constantly dodging missiles. The missile-avoiding prompts are dull in isolation – you need only react to an on-screen prompt and correctly press left or right and the dodge button – but when they’re triggering every few seconds it’s a tense, thrilling affair that will make you feel like a major bad-ass.

This excitement doesn’t always hold up, and often the presentation is partly at fault. The low-resolution screen, coupled with the expanses of land mean more often than not you feel like you’re shooting at your HUD indicator rather than an enemy. The dialogue is also absurd – it’s a bit too straight-laced to be intentionally funny, but everything smacks of a “this is how grown ups talk” mentality. The inhabitants of the world are also so overly obsequious to the player character that you may feel slight embarrassment as the third evil henchman in 5 minutes remarks on how you’re the greatest fighter they’ve ever seen as you send them to a fiery death at 20,000ft.

Having an amiibo will have some advantages for you…

If you’re wondering about the plus in the title, this is a re-release of the well-received action game that hit 3DS back in 2011, only this version takes advantage of the New 3DS XL’s added bells and whistles. One of the top-billed features is the amiibo support, with themed paint-jobs based on Nintendo characters activated when you press a figure to the N3DS, but custom planes can also be unlocked by finding the whimsical Mario-style question blocks and hitting them with rockets. The C-Stick allows for free movement of the camera, and the new shoulder buttons allow you to control your yaw – it might not sound like a lot, but the camera controls are often the difference between maddeningly losing track of an enemy and getting a lock-on with seconds to spare.

I enjoyed my time with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy+ – the missions can be licked within four hours or so, but there are a ton of unlocks, additional difficulties, and a survival mode to score-chase on. It’s clearly been carefully crafted for the target hardware, and while I wish that didn’t mean occasionally talking to me like I’m 8 years old, I’m grateful that the (New) 3DS has the perfect arcade game for when I want to blast the Top Gun soundtrack while playing something totally bitchin’.

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