TOKYO--While cruising Namco Bandai's 2008 Tokyo Game Show booth, we glimpsed a game where the player was tilting and turning the nunchuk to steer a plane. Intriguing, we thought. Then we saw him perform a spinning U-turn and gun another plane down. Time to line up, we said. A few minutes later we were ducking and diving through the air in pursuit of enemy bogeys in Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces.
There is a story in Sky Crawlers, though we weren't able to glean much information about it from the anime cutscenes in the show floor trailer. We did learn plenty about the action, though, which took place above a city bordered by verdant mountains on one side and the azure ocean on the other. From high up in the clouds the environment looked quite nice, though it didn't hold up very well upon closer inspection. This didn't matter too much once we got our hands on the controls, as we were too busy focusing on our flight path.
When we reached for the controls, the presenter insisted that we take the nunchuk in our right hand and the remote in our left. We soon found out this was because the entire nunchuk functions as a control stick; you use it to roll, pitch, and yaw your jet. The remote functions as the throttle: tilt up to accelerate and down to decelerate. It felt a little strange at first to switch hands, but the lighter nunchuk made for an easier, more comfortable steering input. After coming pretty close to splashing down a few times, we began to get the feel for it and started the hunt.
In addition to a targeting reticle in the middle of the screen, there's a translucent cone the indicates the direction of your enemies. This proved much more helpful than the tactical map display, because we could remain focused on maneuvering the plane and not have to look to the corner of the screen to check where our enemies were. Actually lining up an approach vector that will give you a good shot at your enemy can be tough, so Sky Crawlers has a feature to make it slightly easier. As soon as you get close to your target, a maneuver bar appears at the bottom of the screen and begins to fill. Once it reaches the halfway point, you can press A to perform a twisting, acrobatic move that will dramatically reposition your plane to get your enemy in your sights. All that's left for you to do is pull the trigger.
This maneuvering is immensely helpful and makes it a lot easier to get a bead on your foes. Those looking for a greater challenge can eschew this feature and pull their own acrobatic stunts. By tilting the analog stick up, down, left, or right, you can select a particular maneuver and press A to pull it off. All it takes is a few well-placed bullets to destroy an enemy jet, but you have to be measured with your salvos since your guns can overheat and leave you weaponless for a few moments.
Flying with the nunchuk was surprisingly easy and made dogfighting quite fun. It took some getting used to, but it was nice to see a new control style that worked well and showed promise. Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces hasn't been announced for North American release yet, but we'll be sure to let you know just as soon as we find out more about this high-flying game.