I should probably begin by stating that I’m a huge Peanuts fan. Studiously collecting and digesting over 100 Schulz books in my youth has inevitably raised expectations for licensed products somewhat, but fortunately Snoopy Flying Ace is the first in a long line of titles not to disappoint. As a stripped-down version of Crimson Skies it fills a neat gap in the XBLA market, and a trend towards accessibility ensures it’s easy to pick up amidst the general chaos of dogfighting.
As a heavily multiplayer-focused game, the singleplayer content in Flying Ace is unsurprisingly little more than a series of tutorials. Loosely based on the dream-world that Snoopy inhabits as a top pilot pursuing a dogged rivalry with The Red Baron, the 18 missions that comprise the main campaign are short and sweet, each concerned with teaching a particular facet of combat. That’s not to say there isn’t enough time for considerable repetition in those few hours defending locations, fighting off enemies or mounting stationary turrets however, but it never outstays its welcome and provides a good depth of knowledge to bounce online.
And it’s those Xbox Live skies in which Snoopy really shines. Dogfights are chaotic 16-player affairs, with various power-ups to deploy and simplistic controls that emphasise your craft’s handling characteristics. Homing missiles, mines, machine guns and traps are all balanced for effectiveness, whilst the right analogue stick performs evasive manoeuvres such as barrel rolls and loops. A quick flick of the stick can steer you out of danger, but those who favour all-out offence can be deadly enough with practice to keep their choice of tactic rewarding. Flying into any of the unique mounted gun emplacements offers up another angle to exploit, but be prepared to reap the benefits of becoming a stationary target.
Traditional free-for-all deathmatch and team-based CTF modes are readily available, whilst ‘Dog Pile’ tasks players with defending a location and ‘Pigskin’ involves passing around a ‘football’ and heading for your opponents goal. Players can select from almost all the classic Peanuts characters beforehand along with several planes that offer various statistical differences, but perhaps the most popular option is built-in Avatar support. Shooting an enemy plane and watching a friend’s annoying sombrero-hatted likeness tumble to earth is a satisfying pleasure and one that I wish more titles would include, especially when you consider the volume of Xbox indie games using the system with ease.
As far as the license is concerned, developer Smart Bomb Interactive could be accused of not doing enough in the way of fan-service, but to level such a complaint would be more than a little churlish. Snoopy Flying Ace is a charming and well-balanced multiplayer flying game with more than enough quality to overcome any hangups about peripheral content. For 800 points, it’s a bargain.