Happy New Year’s, and post Valentine’s Day to you all! Welcome to my first 8-bit Friday of 2022, and a Blazing one it is. Not because it’s hot out, no it’s been a cold weekend, it’s because I bring you not one, but two Blazing Angels games on the Xbox 360.
Since I’m essentially reviewing the entire Blazing Angels franchise on home console (yes, there is a sit down arcade cab, that I’ve never encountered before and cannot comment on) I would like to make comments about the shared points first. First of all being an avid Ace Combat fan, I know that particular franchise is the gold standard among console aviation games; so most entries by other publishers tend to fall flat, Konami’s Airforce Delta franchise was a noble attempt, and Bitcomposser’s Air Conflicts franchise is also a very notable recent entry. With that said, Blazing Angles isn’t Ace Combat either, and considering how high Ace Combat sets the bar, that’s fine. So what really matters is how fun the game is on its own merits, as well as what’s unique about it.
I first encountered the Blazing Angels franchise years ago after I had gotten my Wii. I looked at the game and quickly wrote it off as it didn’t sound like much fun to play on the Wii, plus I was more into PC flight sims at the time anyway and dismissed anything on a console. Over the years since I’ve run into the games from time to time, especially in sorting through bins at Midwest Gaming Classics. Then recently on the Microsoft store I spotted both games in the backward compatibility section for Xbox, but neither was available for download, so I decided to look them up on eBay and subsequently purchase them.
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII (Xbox 360)
Graphically, Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII isn’t much to look at. Again, keep in mind this was also a title available on the early Wii, so were talking very early gen 7 graphics, that still had a mostly gen 6 look about it. This was also not a AAA title, so Ubisoft wasn’t about to push the graphics either. On the XBox 360 though I will say the controls worked pretty well for the game, but of coarse I kept slipping into Ace Combat habits from time to time, but overall the controls made sense.
The game’s plot focuses on the exploits of American pilots flying with the RAF before the US’s involvement in World War 2. Later as time progresses we follow the pilots as they move into USAAF service starting with Pearl Harbor (obviously). Essentially there are four main characters, of which the players character is one known as the “Captain”. The plots are contrived, which is to be expected of a history based video game, yet I still found them entertaining and fun.
What I liked about the game is the follow feature, controlled by LT on the 360 controller. Essentially this lets you look for your enemy in relation to your own aircraft, comparable to the “head on a swivel” practice real fighter pilots then, and even now use, but something video games don’t really allow for not even Ace Combat, or at least in an easy way like Blazing Angels does. I also like the plot element of knowing who your squadron mates are, and even a having them be key characters in the game. Lastly, again this is something Ace Combat, at least 6 and 7 lacks, is the ability to call on your squadron mates for help, or even the ability to rely on them to finish an attack. Its nice to have help getting an enemy off your back, or knowing a ground target will still be attacked while you deal with enemy aircraft.
As for what I didn’t like, I think the biggest things that pokes out is that some of the missions can be a bit odd, or even lack mechanics that give them good playability. For instance there’s a mission in North Africa that requires you to fly off an aircraft carrier for recon. The first part of the mission is learning how the camera works, which is slightly counter-intuitive in function and operation, and took me several try’s to get to operate correctly. Following that you head to shore, andinto a sandstorm to photograph Rommel’s Afrika Korps, with only radio signals to guide you. I must have flow in circles over that desert for an hour listening to the same annoying radio chatter over and over before the enemy forces finally showed up hidden in places I could swear I had flown over already. The level design on that one straight up sucked, which detracted from a somewhat good game.
Overall Three Stars in my book, mostly because of that mission.
Blazing Angels: Secret Missions of WWII (Xbox 360)
Graphically, Blazing Angels: Secret Missions of WWII, is a far higher quality game, and looks like it fully fits in the gen 7 graphics. It’s a step up, but again I really couldn’t say that it’s graphically stunning or anything. Control wise it’s much the same as the first game with the exception that RB on the Xbox 360 controller fires a secondary weapon. Basically no huge charges to the original though.
This games plot follows the exploits of Captain Christopher Robinson, yes I thought I’d Winnie the Pooh as well. You start off with Robinson nowadays at an air show, in an old Spitfire doing stunts. Eventually as you progress through the first level, you are jarringly my sent back to air combat over Europe. You find out Robinson was an American, who joined up with the RAF in early World War II, much like the characters in the first game. Robinson however is on a mission with the USAAF to gain experience and help recruit men for a new special squadron. There is a myriad of interesting missions in this game including taking part in the British raid on Taranto harbor, which is something I don’t think any other game has tried to recreate.
My likes for this game are mostly the same as that of this first, with the exception of the unique missions of this game. The attack of Taranto for instance made me fall in love with this game.
As for my dislikes, like the first games there are a few of level design choices. The very end of the attack on Taranto Harbor mission for instance is a hard one to get through mostly to being awkward.
Overall, I give this one four stars due to its uniqueness.
As mentioned earlier in this post Blazing Angels does have an arcade version out as well, but besides that the franchise hasn’t really been touched since Secret Missions in 2008. In a way I think it’s a shame we haven’t seen anything else from this franchise, or any reboots with better graphics, maybe even using the Project Aces engine. If your into aviation games on console, this maybe a franchise you want to check out.