The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is the most angst ridden video game about exploding airplanes that I have ever played. As planes fly through the sky, gunning down their enemies with extreme prejudice, their pilots discuss the emotional consequences of their desire to fight, get into petty arguments, and spout trash talk that somehow manages to be egotistical and self-loathing at the same time. Normally, I don’t mind it much when games treat their characters in this manner, as it can be interesting to follow the characters through the course of the game. In The Sky Crawlers, however, this type of characterization and storytelling is contrasted with a very serious and realistic military style of presentation, making both parts of the game seem oddly out of place. If this were the only part of the game that suffered from extreme unevenness, it would be easy to overlook, but as a whole, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is anything but consistent.
The gameplay in The Sky Crawlers is pretty straightforward. You, as a pilot, are given a hangar full of airplanes loaded with weaponry, and these planes and weapons are used to blow a lot of stuff up. In general, this works out well. The fact that each and every plane handles differently is a nice touch, and piles of customization options allow players to create aircraft perfectly matched to their play styles. Dog fighting in the game is quite fun, too, with a special moves system that makes your superior ability to decimate enemy aircraft delightfully implausible. Flipping your airplane through the sky like one of the snowboarders from SSX, only with more guns, is very enjoyable and arguably the best part of the game.
Although the aerial combat in The Sky Crawlers works well, the game’s attempts at variety falter considerably. Missions against targets on the ground are incredibly dull, with the majority of each of them revolving around circling a target at low altitudes until you find the perfect second in which to destroy them. The way the game handles recon missions is even worse in terms of tedium. Approaching the targets is a long and boring task, and missing them leads to minutes of uneventful flight. To make matters worse, the occasionally inaccurate motion controls are particularly troublesome in both of these mission types, as they often send your plane crashing into mountains and buildings. If these missions were infrequent, they’d be no more than a minor annoyance, but there’s enough of them that it becomes a serious issue.
The graphics in The Sky Crawlers are equally uneven. Though the airplanes and scenery look good enough to be functional, they suffer from a lack of detail that makes the whole game look like a slightly out of focus filmstrip. The animated cut scenes, on the other hand, look excellent. They’re filled with smoothly animated anime characters placed against detailed backgrounds and, at least for me, proved to be one of the highlights of the game.
One area in which The Sky Crawlers does manage to consistently excel is its sound. The music, while occasionally repetitive, is memorable and not at all grating, and the voice acting is well done. Although it sounds like a small detail, the aircraft radio is also an integral and nicely executed part of the game. True, by the fifth time you retry a mission, you’ll want to start shooting your allies down over their inane radio chatter, but, for most of the game, the conversation, mission information, and tendency to pick up stray radio signals successfully adds personality and atmosphere to the missions.
It is undeniable that The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is an imperfect game. The graphics are unimpressionable, nearly half of the missions feel like a chore to complete, and the contrast between the realistically presented military aspects of the game and the angst-y anime characters is bizarre, to say the least. For fans of aerial combat games or the anime on which The Sky Crawlers was based, however, the game offers an excess of value, with an Achievements-esque medal system, multiple difficulty levels, and dozens of things to unlock. This, when looked at alongside the things that The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces does well, makes it an above average game for anyone who might want engage in air to air combat on their Wii.