Name: Spitfire Heroes: Tales Of The Royal Air Force
Genre: WWII Flight Combat
God bless Destineer. They are a relatively new publisher who specializes in finding unknown and underfunded developers and publishing their (generally crappy) titles. It’s a shame, really, when you look at the extremely high production values that Destineer prides themselves on. Their box-art and instruction manuals are always of the highest quality, especially when compared to the generally low-level of quality found in the games themselves. Well, guess what. It looks like they’ve finally found a title that lives up to the slick packaging that will contain it. Mostly, anyway.
Spitfire Heroes: Tales of the Royal Air Force is a flight combat game set in WWII. Within the confines of your Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB, you are a one-man airborne fighting force, at the ready to defend the UK from the Nazi threat. The single-player campaign starts you off in Dunkirk, attacking a convoy of German tanks and voiding their air escort. Subsequent missions task you with everything from surviving a massive dogfight over the English Channel and protecting an airbase from bombing runs to destroying a German base in hopes of ending the war. Despite the apparent mission variety, the levels basically boil down to either shooting down enemy fighters and bombers or taking out ground targets. It’s a WWII air combat game, so there’s not too much more that cold be expected of the game, but a little more variety would have been appreciated. For the first time in my life, I found myself longing for an escort mission!
The few mission types that are in the game play out surprisingly well, though, for a Destineer-made DS title. Controls are relatively simple, with the D-pad controlling your plane and the right trigger firing cannons and bombs. The throttle is controlled with the A and B buttons, despite a touch screen display that looks like it should control your speed. The X button performs a barrel roll that is effective against enemy fire. There is also a lock-on feature, mapped to the left trigger, that allows you to keep enemies on-screen while you engage them. It’s a shame that the touch screen has no functionality, but controlling your plane is still instinctive and satisfying, with responsive and tight controls all around.
Despite the ease of control, Spitfire Heroes boasts a punishing level of difficulty. Even on the easiest difficulty level, enemy fighters are deadly accurate, and will frustrate even the most skilled pilots with their uncanny ability to keep you in their sites no matter what evasive maneuvers you take. When you do manage to shake a bogey, getting them in your sights is almost as difficult. German pilots will weave and rapidly change speeds to avoid your fire, and often fly directly into your plane, killing both of you. Using the lock-on feature helps a lot, but initiating a lock-on can be difficult. If the enemy is too far away, the lock-on will not take. In Spitfire Heroes, “too far away” means about 50 feet, giving you a very small window for your lock-on feature. To make matters more difficult, just completing a mission doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to play the next one. Missions are graded after completion, taking into account the amount of deaths you’ve experienced, elapsed time, enemy planes shot down, damage to airbases, etc. Often, you’ll find yourself scrambling to just barely finish a level, only to see a 13% as your final grade, meaning you’ll have to do it all over again, but much better. He learning curve is extremely steep, and the lack of any sort of tutorial doesn’t help matters any.
For a DS game, Spitfire Heroes is a pretty nice looking game as well. Most of your combat takes place over open seas and green fields, so there’s not a ton of visual variety to the backgrounds, but what is there looks good, especially the sky, which is full of realistic cloud cover. Airbases are relatively detailed and easily recognizable from great distances. The game’s aircraft are especially crisp and very well-rendered for a DS title, with great looking textures and smooth flight animation. Visually, it doesn’t quite match up to the level of Freedom Wings, but it’s close. Even the cut scenes are impressive, employing a sepia tone film-grain that gives them a pseudo-realistic WWII feel. The game’s audio presentation fares almost as well, with appropriate sound effects for plane engines, gunfire and explosions, and a suitably grandiose score playing over menu screens.
There is a multiplayer element to the game as well, but since no one has this game yet, I was unable to test it out. According to Destineer, the game supports up to 4-player multiplayer, though each player needs a copy of the game to play. As long as there isn’t significant lag, the multiplayer should theoretically work just like the campaign, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Overall, Spitfire Heroes is a decidedly capable arcade-style flyer that’s a bit short on content, but big on tight gameplay and challenge. If you can find someone to play the multiplayer modes with, you’ll be better served by this title, but the singe-player campaign is well worth playing as well. As long as you don’t mind a serious challenge, Spitfire Heroes is worthy of a recommendation to DS owners looking for a satisfying air combat experience. Congratulations, Destineer. You got one that's worth playing.