Flight simulators are complicated. Accurate flight models, perfect recreations of aeroplanes using millions of polygons with thousands of hours put into making planes act realistically, with every little detail, from wind speed and air density to the detail of the cockpits meticulously poured over in every way, with the action taking place over landscapes that stretch for thousands of miles of terrain.
MiniSquadron doesn’t do any of those things, but it does one thing better than any expensive, full on flight simulator, and that is fun, exciting dogfighting.
MiniSquadron is a side on, 2D dogfighting game. If you remember an old Amiga game by the name of Jetstrike, then the game will be instantly familiar to you, as the basic mechanics are very similar, even if many of the design concepts are different.
You control a little aeroplane with a virtual analogue stick on the left hand side of the screen, with a single button for firing your weapon on the bottom right hand side.
The game is basically a series of airborne deathmatches, with your planes dogfighting with many other planes above various landscapes. The best thing about this game is the feel, as your plane controls perfectly as it twirls and weaves among the other aircraft, spinning, diving and climbing, yet always feeling perfectly under control.
When in a dogfight with half a dozen aircraft, the game is intense, with weapons fire flying everywhere, everyone trying to get the upper hand.
One moment you can be zeroed in on a wounded plane, trailing it as flames pour out of its side, and the next you have to break off your attack as a bandit pops out of the sky behind you, missiles trained on you.
It’s as fun as it sounds, especially as the craft can have a massive variety of weapons. As well as basic machine guns and missiles, there are bombs, lasers, triple cannons and many more that will have you ducking and diving for your life.
There are various pick ups to be collected, many of which are just versions of the different weapons, but there are also speed ups, invisibility and the fantastic giant laser, which is always worth a few kills.
One great aspect that helps elevate the gameplay is the fact that it is possible to stall your plane. Fly too high, or too fast, or even get hit in the wrong way, and you will find yourself stalled, your engine stopped and a few seconds from plummeting to your death. This initially instills a sense of panic, and you can only get out of a stall by turning your craft towards the direction you are falling for a second or so. This is ok if you are high in the sky, but stall too close to the ground and you have had it. The reason I say it enhances the gameplay is twofold. Firstly, it means that you can’t just spin and weave forever, thus giving the act of twisting and turning for a pronged period of time an element of true skill. Secondly, as you can turn on a sixpence when stalling, it soon occurs to you that this is a great tool. Can’t shake off that plane that has the same speed as you? Stall your craft and let him shoot past, allowing you to get a few precious shots on his tail.
The graphics are charming, with a nice, cartoony style that suits the action. The way that pieces of metal fly of the planes when you shoot them is great, and the game rarely slows down, even with dozens of fast moving objects on screen.
The music is fantastic, with various classical tunes helping to give the game a ton of character. Don’t think classical music could suit a flying game? Go see Apocalypse Now.
There are over fifty planes to unlock, each with vastly different attributes. Some are fast with triple machine guns, others slow with homing missiles. There are planes that shoot giant fireball, planes that shoot lasers and many more.
Many of the aircraft are normal looking Spitfire lookalikes, but there are some crazy designs in there such as cats, forks and UFO’s (these actually have their own special control system. Think Geometry wars).
They are nice, but there are perhaps too many of the crazy designs; I like them but I would have preferred more of the normal craft, to be honest.
There are two game modes in the webOS version, classic, where you must beat a set number of waves in each of the eight levels to unlock more areas, and Survival, where you must try to survive as many waves as you can with three lives.
It’s a shame that the iPhone versions multiplayer mode hasn’t made the transition, as that would have added greatly to the replay value, as would the understandably missing OpenFeint integration..
The game works great as fantastic little downloadable gem, but I still think there is more that could have been done here.
The whole dogfighting ethos is great, but I would love to see this game have proper missions and levels. Bases to attack with bombing runs taking down the defences. Stranded soldiers to rescue, engagements with naval targets. All of this could have made this into a more well rounded gaming experience, instead of just an addictive diversion.
Overall then, highly recommended, with some of the purest gameplay in the smartphone space. You will have some of the most exciting fun you can currently have with a touch screen device. Its great, but I just feel it could have been even better.