Missile lock. Fire one, fire two. The first goes wide, but the second finds the wing of the ace gunning for my head. Open up with the chain gun — bullets speed toward the tail of the jet, tearing it apart. Boom. Check radar. One behind me! Roll right at the last moment. Enemy fire zips past. Turn to face the enemy. Missile lock. Fire one, fire two. Repeat. It’s not an average to-do list, unless you’re a top pilot or playing Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ on Nintendo 3DS.
Developed by Access Games and published by Bandai Namco, Ace Combat blends arcade action with the reality of flying a jet. Your jet can carry a ridiculous number of missiles and has no fuel gauge, but stalls and sputters if its airspeed drops too low or you climb too high. Don’t expect to pull off loops and barrel rolls with the agility of an Arwing, either. Dogfights with other pilots rely more on targeting and positioning than itchy trigger fingers, but your jet turns at a turtle’s pace. What’s an ace pilot to do?
In order to bridge the gap between jet fighter veteran and land-bound gamer, Assault Horizon Legacy+ allows you to pull off death-defying loops and spins at the push of a button. Tapping a button at the right time launches your ship into an auto-pilot sequence that places you behind your target without fail. From there, it’s a matter of maintaining the lock and unloading your explosive payload. You can also escape from enemy missiles in this way, dodging left or right to avoid damage. Jets only take two or three missiles before disintegrating into spare parts, so pilots must evade at every chance.
Classic controls that make use of the D-pad provide an added layer of realism, if you choose to forego the default arcade-style controls and aforementioned maneuvers. However, I found those features helpful, allowing me to focus on the mission rather than my lack of flight experience. My only gripe with controls concerns changing targets. Missiles only lock on to your selected target; if you want to switch, you have to drag and release onto the new target using the touch screen. It can cause a break in concentration as you take your thumbs off the controls, which can be disastrous mid-flight.
Missions put you through a number of objectives linked to the ongoing throwaway story. Protect the VIP. Defend the town. Attack the fleet. Destroy the supplies. No matter the objective, you can expect to encounter enemy resistance in the form of the most disposable air force in the world. The enemies’ poor aim makes blasting ten or more jets out of the sky a common occurrence. Anti-aircraft guns on the ground are more difficult to dispose of, since you’ll hit the landscape if you aren’t careful.
For each mission, players can select a jet, equip it with custom parts and weapons, and pick a paint job. Pilots earn credits to unlock these extras by blasting enemy craft, clearing the mission in a timely fashion, and achieving a high rank while doing so. In addition to buying new jets and parts, pilots can spend credits to repair damage to their jet after every mission. Or, they can hire a wingman to support them in combat. All of these monetary adjustments to your account come in the form of an itemized list after each mission, broken down to the model of plane you destroyed and its value.
You will also encounter ace squadrons and special pilots. You can shoot them down like the rest, though they dodge missile fire and get behind you better than the rest of their lackluster squadron. The game notes that these pilots are special because they get a name, a portrait, and a data file to unlock once they’ve been obliterated. This is a nice feature that gives personality to your rivals.
After completing each mission, a full replay highlights your most crucial moments. Each replay was thorough and captured all of my jittery movements, playful turns, and erratic behavior. You can save the full replay if you think it makes you look like a hotshot. However, my replays did not make me appear calm and collected, but rather had me see myself as a foolish novice. There’s also a tactical replay with arrows standing in for jets during the debrief — much like how a football diagram uses Xs and Os to depict the players. Assault Horizon Legacy+ makes a short list of each fighter you downed, its worth to you in credits, and adds them all together while the replay captures key moments in the background. The list adds each fighter at the moment in the replay that it was destroyed. It’s nice to see an after-action report like this, which came as a pleasant surprise.
Unlike most 3DS titles, I enabled 3D graphics while I played Assault Horizon Legacy+. Using 3D helped my gameplay, as it created a depth-of-field I found important to locating, targeting, and picking off targets that would otherwise remain a blip of pixels on radar. A mission set in the dead of night with instruments scrambled by enemy jamming technology forced me to use my sight (along with the brightness control on my 3DS) to successfully locate the offending plane and disable it.
Some of the graphics in Assault Horizon Legacy+ miss the mark. An early mission sends you over a city that looks like a series of shoe boxes propped up on a carpet patterned with streets and flat grey rectangles. While jets and weapons appear accurate and well modeled, the same can’t be said for other military vehicles or buildings.
The soundtrack ranges from hard rock during intense battles to orchestral numbers backed by a triumphant choir as you climb through the clouds toward victory. It’s a nice blend, with some electronic music thrown in to shake things up. The roar of jets carving through the air as they fire missiles while instruments beep warnings also lends itself to the experience. Each line of dialogue is also voiced, which saves players from looking away from the action to read forgettable story updates.
Challenge mode allows you to replay story chapters as well as embark on survival challenges and extra missions. Extra missions change a few parameters of the associated story mission to make them more challenging, but play out the same way. Survival challenges take place within the framework of the story missions. However, you start with a damaged jet, a limited amount of play time, and a depleted ammo supply. You can remedy these problems by destroying certain targets on the way to your objective. For example, a target with “HEALTH” indicated will repair your jet when you destroy it. Your radar and HUD label these special targets and color-code them as well. Survival challenges thus require you to prioritize targets to refill your health, ammo, and time as well as taking out the objective target.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ is the remake of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy, also released for the Nintendo 3DS. Legacy+ has updated controls for the Circle Pad Pro and supports the New Nintendo 3DS’s additional ZL/ZR shoulder buttons and amiibo functionality. Certain amiibo, such as Mario, Bowser, and Link unlock the special Nintendo themed planes immediately. Those without amiibo can unlock Nintendo jets during story missions by shooting a special block mid-mission. You can do this on your first play-through, with new jets available on a regular basis. For example, I found the Peach and Donkey Kong jets after only a few missions.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ returns the action of mid-air combat to the Nintendo 3DS line. It’s a solid entry in the genre, with a decent learning curve for beginners. After you’ve earned your wings, there’s more to do beyond the campaign. Customizable planes, extra missions, and unlockable content boost the replay value. Sadly, there’s no multiplayer to test your skills against other competent human pilots and put your tuned-up jet to use, though this did not hinder my enjoyment of the game overall. The 3D visuals work well with the game, while the textures and ground environments look flat and hideous up close. If you’re a fan of the Ace Combat series and missed Assault Horizon Legacy the first time around, or if you feel like high-speed mile-high thrill rides, put Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ in your sights and pull the trigger. Otherwise, you can let this one fly by.
Review copy provided by BANDAI NAMCO Games