The Ace Combat series has been taking to the skies since 1992, first appearing on the original PlayStation. In terms of the action flight-sim genre, the franchise has remained largely unchallenged in its console supremacy, with this release marking the second outing on Nintendo’s 3DS.
However, Ace Combat Horizon Legacy Plus is an enhanced version of a game originally released in 2011, which itself was a remake of 1997’s Ace Combat 2. This Plus edition comes with a few alterations designed to take advantage of Nintendo’s recently arrived New 3DS. The question is, have those changes brought anything meaningful to both the original game, or the franchise?
You take on the role of Phoenix, an ace fighter pilot from the Scarface Squadron of the USEA allied forces, with the story’s plot following your actions as you aim to suppress rebel forces as they attempt a coup. The political machinations and military ramifications play out between missions, though in essence they are simply there to give some basis to the repeated dogfights and incursions that you take part in in the course of the story mode.
Each mission begins with a briefing by your handler Olsen, who along with giving you the background on each area, will also give you a rundown of the enemy forces you’re likely to face. Olsen also talks you through each successfully completed section, with the character’s voice acting holding up well as he moves the plot forward.
The controls take advantage of the New 3DS’ extra buttons, but only in a relatively minimal fashion. The new C-Stick gives you camera control as you fly, whilst the ZL and ZR buttons can be used to control your yaw if so desired. Overall the controls are relatively simple, with your aircraft’s movement controlled by the analog slider, your guns and missiles controlled by A and B, and your aircraft’s speed mapped to L and R.
You also have the ability to perform an Action Manouevre, which requires a gauge to fill before being engaged, allowing your aircraft to perform an automatic manoeuvre so that you can get the enemy aircraft in your sights or evade a missile lock. Each time you do this it certainly looks impressive, though it makes encounters a fair bit easier. For the purists amongst you there is the option of turning this ability off though.
Overall I did find the sensitivity of the analog slider to be a touch too high, making it difficult to perform smooth changes in direction, and sadly there’s no option to adjust it. The resulting jerkiness is most apparent in the replays that you’re treated to after each mission, as half of the time they look fantastic whilst the other half they’re completely unrealistic.
Graphically the game holds up well, particularly as a fundamentally four-year-old outing on the handheld. The New 3DS’ chipset doesn’t offer many enhancements beyond improved loading times, and flying through the explosion of a recently destroyed enemy aircraft still causes a few moments of slowdown. The improved 3D effect is massively helpful though, as given the style of game there was often too much player movement to make using the 3D effect viable.
It definitely adds to the game, with aircraft looking solid against the attractive backgrounds, but with the added value of being able to better judge the distance between you and your targets. Of course, as with any Ace Combat game, the backgrounds aren’t meant to be viewed close-up, with low quality textures becoming apparent at low altitude, and some ground-based items are so small that they’re not really visible beyond your targeting reticule, but these issues don’t detract from the experience.
Really the key headline in the game’s enhancements is as the first third-party title to offer Amiibo support, now available thanks to the New 3DS’ NFC ability. Realistically it’s a fairly bare-bones affair, with a number of the first wave of Amiibo’s unlocking themed aircraft when placed on the 3DS’ touchscreen. The aircraft are at least not simply re-skinned aircraft, offering modified stats over their vanilla counterparts.
I was hugely taken with the Link themed F-14D that my first Amiibo unlocked, but then slightly dismayed to find that Marth, another first wave figure, was unsupported. Namco haven’t ruled out further updates, though it’s annoying that one of the first figures doesn’t work when the others do. For those without the New 3DS, the game does at least allow you to unlock some of the special edition aircraft by finding yellow question mark blocks in different areas, though it’s not the full range available to those with the figures.
The game’s sound design is excellent, with sweeping orchestral themes sitting alongside more modern electronic fare. They definitely add to the sense of bombast, though I have to admit that at times I just thought I was in Top Gun. Whether that is a positive or a negative will of course be a personal choice. During missions you also get the constant radio chatter of Olsen, and your wingman, alongside the sounds of gunfire, missile locks and jets shooting past, which all go a long way to submersing you within the game’s world.
Admittedly the game’s story mode isn’t incredibly long, though there’s added longevity to be found in increased difficulty modes and the Challenge Mode which tasks you with meeting various objectives within an often tight time limit. The game’s central combat is enjoyable enough though to warrant repeated playthroughs, and I can certainly see myself returning to the game. However, Namco have really missed a huge opportunity to implement multiplayer into the game, particularly if they’d made the game a New 3DS exclusive and truly taken advantage of the system’s improvements.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy Plus is an enjoyable and engaging entry in the series, and in the combat flight-sim genre. For returning players however there is very little new content here to warrant a purchase, unless you’re absolutely desperate to pilot a Samus Aran airplane in a fictional war. For those new to the title who are looking for something slightly different to go with their New 3DS, there’s a lot to recommend here, though it sadly all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.