If you have ever played the outstanding Crimson Skies, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Smart Bomb Interactive's Snoopy Flying Ace. Taking control of a fanciful World War I-era airplane, piloted by your favorite Peanuts character, you are tasked with taking on the enemy in a large number of different scenarios. Unlike most arcade games, there's a lot more than just singleplayer (for which there is plenty of content, don't worry). You can also participate in a host of multiplayer modes, including online and offline co-op modes.
The bulk of the singleplayer game features you in your airplane vs. any number or variety of enemy aircraft. Sometimes there are friends to assist you and sometimes the enemy aircraft have special abilities but, in general, you'll spend most of your time dogfighting with enemy planes.
To assist you in your goal of shooting them before they shoot you, there are a host of weapons at your disposal. The trusty machine gun is always available on the right trigger, while the left trigger is used to fire one of two special weapons you can have on board at any time (you switch between them with B). The special weapons are genuinely varied and have specific uses where they shine, as well as allowing considerable variety in playstyle or other personal preference. The shotgun, for example, is a useful way to punch holes in enemies (or several enemies!) up close but a waste of time at range. These weapons also have limited ammunition (although it does respawn over time) preventing players from spamming them and ensuring the default machine gun still has some value.
In addition to the basic maneuver (left stick), accelerate (A) and brake (X), your pilot also has a number of stunts at their disposal - performed using the right stick. These moves (which can be further modified by clever use of brake and accelerate) allow you to break the enemy's lock (barrel roll) or perform stunt turns etc to get the upper hand on the enemy. These controls take a bit of getting used to, particularly if you played a lot of Crimson Skies back in the day, but they are genuinely very good and will soon become second nature.
Mission variety is very good and the singleplayer campaign, light on story though it may be, is a great way of leading you through each of these modes of play before taking on other players in multiplayer. But there's a lot more to it than just flying around in third person. There are missions where you need to take direct control of turrets (which you fly between in your plane) or control turrets fixed to flying vehicles which you must switch between to simultaneously defend the vehicle you're in and attack the objective. Even the flying stuff isn't restricted solely to dogfighting, with ring-races and other clever-flying objective-based goals to complete.
The multiplayer is a real highlight of the package, as evidenced by the extremely strong following the game gets online. Unlike many of the other games we review, we had absolutely no trouble finding people to play against. Team deathmatch is the most popular mode at the moment but there are loads of other modes available too, including capture the flag and co-operative modes as well. Friend support is excellent and it has an excellent implementation of the now-standard levelling system which allows you to progress in rank as you play. If you're good enough you can get on the aces leaderboard where poor performance results in a loss of position and competition is extremely tough indeed. There was no noticeable lag either, despite our relatively high ping (compared to the other players).
Graphically the game is good, if not outstanding. The vehicle designs are mostly excellent with the planes in particular oozing character with their exagerated designs and the overlarge weaponry in which they're bedecked. The field of view seems a little weird, exagerating the feeling of speed well enough but making the scenery at the peripherals warp quite a bit - particularly when turning and even more so if you have a large TV. Not a huge problem but certainly noticeable.
The sound, like the graphics, is mostly good and occasionally excellent - particularly when you fly close to someone who has just been shot down. The sound of a plummeting, Stuka-like biplane is unmistakable and Smart Bomb Interactive totally nail it here. The music is a bit over-dramatic for its quality, drawing attention to itself while lacking the class to really pull off that much focus. It's far from awful but still a little bit odd.
For 800 points (about $14), this is the bargain of the century. There's heaps to do here, online and offline, with a tonne of variety and without exception it's all fun to play as well. If you remember Crimson Skies fondly then you owe it to yourself to check this out; the torch has been passed on and Snoopy is wielding it like a champion. Snoopy Flying Ace has leapfrogged to the top of the downloadable pile and easily makes the shortlist of the best games on XBLA. Highly recommended.