F24 Stealth Fighter was clearly inspired by such classic air combat games as F-15 Strike Eagle and Turn and Burn: No Fly Zone. In the game, you climb into the cockpit of the fictional F24 fighter jet and fly missions from a first-person viewpoint in the skies over Iran. Unfortunately, the main thing F24 Stealth Fighter has in common with the air combat games of days gone by is that it looks and sounds like it was developed decades ago. Along with that, the dogfighting in the game is boring and is further stymied by the touchy controls and the disorienting visuals.
From the controls to what happens in the sky, F24 Stealth Fighter takes a laid-back approach to air combat. The D pad is used to steer the aircraft, while the buttons control throttle and weapons. You'll remain in the air just as long as you don't intentionally smash into the ground, run out of fuel, or get shot down. Your flight view is presented from a first-person perspective, but instead of employing 3D graphics, the game juxtaposes scaling cloud and aircraft sprites on top of 2D backdrops to fake a 3D look. All of the missions in the game follow the same format. Your first task is to get rid of any enemy MiGs patrolling the skies over the target area. Once you've taken out the planes, your next task is to fly to the designated waypoints and attack the enemy's ground targets, which can involve launching Tomahawk missiles at them or attacking them directly during a strafing run. There's really nothing to dogfighting or destroying ground targets. If an enemy MiG or surface-to-air missile gets behind you, all you need to do is turn around or drop some chaff to deal with the threat. Otherwise, shooting down a target simply involves sighting it and pressing the missile button when you hear the lock-on tone. To take out tanks, carriers, and structures on land, you'll occasionally have to use your guns to hit flashing target markers. Your own aircraft can absorb five hits before exploding, but you can return to the carrier's waypoint once per mission to automatically land for repairs and reloading. The developers clearly made a conscious effort to make blowing stuff up simple and easy.
Destroying the same enemy planes and tanks in the same repetitive fashion does get old pretty fast, but what really sucks the fun out of the game are the jumpy steering controls and disorienting visuals. When you tap the D pad, the targeting reticle goes flying. This makes it difficult to keep targets in view and makes it impossible to use the F24's machine guns in normal dogfight situations. Missiles lock on automatically and can turn on a dime to follow targets, so there's no compelling reason to ever use the guns, except when they're required for a strafing run. Disorientation is another common problem because the flat 2D backdrops don't provide anything in the way of terrain details or landmarks. All you ever see are generic clouds flying past. To locate targets and see which way you're going, you'll find yourself switching to the radar view (and interrupting the flow of combat) every few seconds.
The overall presentation is bland and lacks punch. The cockpit instrument panel occupies half of the screen in the Game Boy Advance version and one-third of the upper screen in the DS version. Enemy planes and vehicles are tiny unless you're right on top of them, and when you are on top of them, they turn into giant pixelated blobs. The sky and ground are merely two contrasting shades of color. If not for the plane's tendency to right itself and the fact that clouds are in the sky, you'd have no way of knowing which end is up. The only noteworthy graphical touches are the goofy cutscenes that show takeoffs and landings, as well as the missile-cam video clips that play on a small display in the cockpit when you destroy an enemy target. Also, there's not much to say about the audio. All of the requisite gun and missile sounds are present, while a guitar riff that's eerily similar to Kenny Loggins' music from Top Gun loops constantly. On the whole, F24 Stealth Fighter looks and feels similar to the air combat games that were produced for the Sega Genesis and SNES in the early 1990s. Now that it's 2007, both the GBA and Nintendo DS are capable of better.
For the most part, the GBA and DS versions of the game are identical. In both games, the main draw is the campaign mode, which spans 20 missions and takes approximately three hours to finish. The DS version includes a few minor enhancements that don't do anything to improve the overall experience. Some of the cockpit instrumentation was moved to the lower screen, and you can use the touch screen to perform a number of commands. However, you'll rarely find yourself doing so because it's easier and faster to press a button when you want to switch weapons or adjust speed. There's also a multiplayer mode in the DS version that lets as many as four players compete in deathmatch scenarios, but it suffers from the same problems as the main campaign mode, and every player must have his or her own cartridge to participate. Ultimately, the only worthwhile enhancement that the developers made to the DS version was replacing the GBA's password-based save system with an on-cartridge save function.
Even if you're totally desperate to acquire an air combat game for your GBA or DS, you're better off staying away from F24 Stealth Fighter. It's boring, it's ugly, and it's somewhat broken.