Let's be honest: Peanuts doesn't really have the pull it used to. There haven't been new comics in ten years, and with the exception of an off-Broadway play about the Peanuts characters being gay, the tales of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the cast have stayed out of the headlines for some time. This made it all the more confusing when it was announced that Smart Bomb Interactive would be making a game with characters from the Charles Schulz comic strip recast as World War I pilots. It made sense, in the vaguest of ways, considering Snoopy's tendency to put on goggles, jump onto the top of his doghouse, and daydream about being a pilot. Still, most people were still understandably skeptical. Schulz's comics are, to many, too classic to mess with, any there's usually some animosity about doing anything with the characters. Luckily, Smart Bomb knew what they were doing, and while they might not have made one of the best games of the generation, the product is still worthy of the Peanuts branding.
With both a strong singleplayer and a stronger multiplayer, Flying Ace is packed with content. In the campaign players assume the role of Snoopy, choosing between a number of unique vehicles and taking to the skies in a variety of mission types. Some will challenge players' motor skills, asking that they fly through hoops, follow closely behind other pilots, or speed around a level freeing Woodstock's friends from the Red Baron's traps. Others, more frequently, let slip the dogs of war, and have the Flying Ace taking on dozens of enemy biplanes while defending locations or attacking cities. While the campaign is mostly an extended tutorial for online play, it still provides a few hours of entertainment. There's just something fun about chasing down Pigpen and blasting him out of the sky while listening to Snoopy's maniacal laugh as he flies through the debris.
When it comes to taking control, the game preforms fairly well. Snoopy isn't forced to fly in a certain direction or along a pre-set path, as is the case with many other flying games. At any point, the player can do a barrel roll, flip the plane upside down, or change direction in order to better pursue his opponents. The levels, which vary a great deal in terms of settings, are completely open to exploration. Players can weave in and out of large, open caverns, or buzz the ground before spinning around the Eiffel Tower in Paris. If there's a turret, players can simply jump in, taking out foes from a stationary point for a change of pace. While the levels aren't technically that large, there's more than enough room for everyone to explore, without there being anywhere safe from enemy attacks.
As expected, this leads to extremely hectic air battles that should feel familiar to anyone currently missing playing Crimson Skies over Xbox Live. Players can battle with up to 16 players in a variety of game modes, from typical deathmatch to the more atypical "Pigskin," which brings American Football into the sky. It's strange, but also fairly fun, and certainly turns both genres on their heads. As is expected in just about everyone online game, there's a ranking system that allows for unlocking new planes and additional weapons, of which players can have two of at any time. There are 15 different weapons beyond firing bullets at opponents, ranging from typical rockets to more interesting forms of warfare. Floating mines, toxic missiles, and even EMPs are at players' disposal, giving them more than enough choices to pick the load-out they need to succeed online. That said, some feel as though they're entirely overpowered, and you'll likely see the same few weapons on everyone at the top of the scoreboard. Thankfully, quick respawns mean that even getting blown out of the sky is pretty fun, something also helped by the game's Avatar support, letting Isaac Clarke can fly next to a Stormtrooper while shooting down Lucy and Linus.
Few games released have as much charm as Snoopy Flying Ace; it's surreal to the point of brilliance. While it might lack the depth that some look for in a multiplayer title and be light on actual Peanuts references, Snoopy Flying Ace has almost everything anyone could want out of an Xbox Live Arcade title. There's a strong, albeit short singleplayer offering, a wealth of multiplayer content, and even support for Xbox Live Avatars and Avatar Awards (mine is now currently donning the Charlie Brown shirt awarded for beating the game). If it were a retail release, things might be a little different, but at only 800 there's more than enough bang for your buck, and the game should make a great addition to anyone's Xbox Live Arcade library.