Monday, November 27, 2006
Good: Entertaining air combat, easy to pick up, presentation carries cartoon's charm
Bad: Too short, limited multiplayer
Realistic: Shooting down WWI fighter planes with potato guns. That would totally work.
The developers of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron really could have done a lot worse with the Peanuts franchise. It would have been extremely easy to use Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the gang in some sort of half-cooked adventure platformer, so the decision to make a flight combat game is admirable in and of itself. The fact that it's actually a fun title for players of all ages is even better.
Players can take control of nearly the entire Peanuts cast as they step into the psyche of the titular canine and his daydreams about being a WWI fighter pilot. The campaign takes place over the course of 22 missions, which are spread over a variety of environments ranging from oceanic islands to wooded forests to snowy mountains. Unfortunately, the entire campaign feels short, and most players will wish there were at least a few bonus missions to play through.
While it lasts, the core gameplay is surprisingly good. Control is like a simplified version of other flying combat games, with the left analog stick controlling your flight direction and the shoulder buttons being used to speed up and slow down. You can also perform a variety of stunts including spins and barrel rolls with just the touch of a button. In execution, maneuvering your plane is extremely easy, and the game even provides a nice tutorial for players new to the genre.
Each plane comes equipped with machine guns, which thankfully never run out of ammunition. In addition to these primary weapon systems, players can pick up secondary weapons that are more powerful, but consume the character's stunt energy. These secondary weapons include items such as the controllable Sky Rocket, the bee-firing Stinger, and the rapid-fire Potato Gun. They're all very creative in their design, but their effects are fairly similar in use.
As you progress through the campaign, you will earn money that can be used to upgrade your plane. Unfortunately, the upgrade system is pretty basic, as the only areas you can improve are health, stunt energy, and machine gun strength. You can also choose to spend your funds to unlock new secondary weapons and playable characters. Most players should be able to obtain almost everything in one playthrough, minimizing the need to play through again.
The game also features split-screen multiplayer for two players, but this mode seems too simplistic for its own good. Three modes are offered, all slight variations on the classic deathmatch setup. Players can play as a wide variety of characters from the Peanuts cast, each with their own unique statistics. Despite being limited to two players, you can also choose to have a number of computer-controlled bots playing with you. Unfortunately, the AI present in these bots is pretty minimal, and you should be able to shoot them down with little to no trouble. Overall, it's nice that they included some kind of multiplayer, but there's just not enough here to keep most players occupied for very long.
One of the main selling points of the title is just how well it captures the license's style in its presentation. Everything from the cutscenes to the character animations to the soundtrack oozes of vintage Peanuts cartoons. Each character, despite being 3-D, looks remarkably like its animated counterpart. In addition to the expected combat anthems, the soundtrack is composed of a nice amount of piano melodies that elicit memories of classic Peanuts tunes. Also, the characters' voice acting is spot on, and the dialogue contains a number of the series' trademark expressions. It's a great presentation and fans of the franchise will not be let down.
Unfortunately, there are still a few blemishes technically. The graphics are at times basic and some of the textures just don't look that good. While the environments are bright and colorful, they're occasionally repetitive in terms of scenery. It's nothing crippling to the game's presentation, but it's not exactly a technical showcase either.
Overall, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is a fun, simple flight combat game that should appeal to fans of all ages. It might not be the longest or most technically advanced game out there, but it makes up for it in terms of presentation and just plain fun.
First Play: 7.5
Replay Value: 6.5