Revving up your engine, listen to her howling roar.
Metal under tension begging you to touch and go.
As a great philosopher once wrote: "I'll take you right into the Danger Zone."
You can't blame me for going full Loggins mere seconds into this review, because we're talking about Ace Combat here. Project Aces' legendary franchise is The Daddy of arcade dogfighters, and though not a patch on PSP powerhouse Ace Combat X (because most things in life aren't a patch on Ace Combat X), Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is an impressive handheld combat flight sim.
Completely rebuilding Ace Combat 2 in full 3D with the High-G turns of AC6 and visceral aerobatics of Assault Horizon, this portable maverick jumped off the deck and shoved into overdrive back in 2011, delivering a high-octane aerial combat experience with empowering mechanics, a robust branching campaign and loads of unlockables that, sadly, hardly anyone bought.
Now it's back. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + has arrived with the New 3DS, and the news is bittersweet. On the one hand, it's still as brilliant as ever, but on the other hand Bandai Namco might have missed a trick.
Or in other words it's basically the same game with a few new tweaks for New 3DS owners. Which, so long as you don't already own the original, is very good news indeed.
Don't let the name fool you, because Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + actually has nothing to do with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon! As a remake of Ace Combat 2, it's set in the colourful parallel Strangereal universe in which air power is king, casting you as wing leader of the mercenary Scarface Squadron who are employed to squash a military coup with extreme prejudice. The story is largely told through bombastic mission briefings, voiceovers and mid-mission banter as you take on characterful enemy ace squadrons, and is compact enough to enjoy without getting in the way of the action.
Frankly the fact that we're addressed as a callsign -- Phoenix -- is much better than forcing us to play as a named and voiced character, since we can read ourselves directly into the cockpit. However, this is very much just the setup for a large range of bite-sized missions that see you scuffling in hectic furballs, engaging enemy ground troops, smashing fleets and engaging in some light escort duty, with stages lasting between 5-15 minutes of intense aerial action that's perfectly suited to pick-up-and-play sessions. Pitched battles against ace squadrons is the real highlight, as they're all designed with unique strategies and memorable characters who are a joy to finally riddle with cannon fire.
Crunching a combat flight sim onto the 3DS couldn't have been easy, but Legacy + handles it masterfully. It's a full-fat flight experience, with two control schemes mapping everything you need onto the circle pad, triggers and face buttons in comfortable and intuitive style. You'll weave, loop, bank and dance through furballs, battling gravity and stalls while dodging missiles and flack, staying on the tail of enemy aces and blasting out some obscene futuristic weapons depending on your loadout.
As such it feels authentic enough to satisfy, while putting pure enjoyment first and foremost. Holding both triggers initiates a visceral High G turn that lets you bank or yaw on a dime, while context-sensitive manoeuvres let you automatically put yourself on an enemy's six or evade incoming missiles with the touch of a button. Balanced out by vicious damage on higher difficulties, it's fantastic fun, while the range of objectives keep things fresh and exciting. As such you'll always feel like Ice Man, only with more hectic canyon runs and less volleyball.
Graphically speaking, Legacy + shows its age as an early 3DS title, with moments of beauty at altitude balanced out by some grainy texture work and blocky geometry on urban stages. Indeed, it can look downright ugly at times... until you activate stereoscopic 3D, at which point it looks fantastic. The fact that you're staring at a fixed reference point in the foreground (your plane or cockpit) and open levels grants an exhilarating feeling of real depth, distance and speed, tricking your brain into effectively doubling its graphical prowess even at low intensity. The further on the edge, the hotter the intensity, you could say.
New 3DS owners come up trumps here thanks to the super-stable 3D, which makes it much more comfortable and convenient to maintain stereoscopic 3D for entire missions, while also freely able to operate the camera using the C-Stick nubbin. Unfortunately there's also no denying that the frame rate sharply dips when something explodes close to you -- which will happen a lot -- leading to some slowdown. Personally I like the unintentional slow-motion effect after a kill, but frankly Bandai Namco could have put some effort into making use of the New 3DS' faster processor.
There's a surprising amount of content and value here, largely due to the campaign structure. Legacy + splits down divergent paths at several points during the story, offering different missions to engage in on future runs along with remixed enemy ace encounters. Completed missions can be replayed in score attack mode, while you'll also unlock a selection of challenges to test your skill.
Every kill you make and mission you complete funnels back into an incredibly robust unlock system, granting persistent currency on a range of planes with different stats, an array of weapons from missiles to bombs, Stand-Off Dispensers and lasers, plus upgrade parts to tune your performance. Most missions also include special enemy aces to optionally engage for extra bonuses, who are often found in distant parts of the maps and require you to juggle your objectives in order to successfully take down. Legacy + also introduces a range of Nintendo-themed planes that can be won by finding question blocks or syncing Amiibo figurines, which is a nice feature if one that unbalances the campaign if you use them on your first playthrough. You're given the option to disable these unlocks until the end of your first campaign and I'd recommend doing exactly that.
So Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + is brilliant as far as it goes, then, but there's a case to be made that it should have released as a DLC pack given the fairly lean amount of new features. A compelling case at that. Put simply, there isn't really much of a reason to buy Legacy + if you own the original.
But chances are you don't. Assault Horizon Legacy was not a major sales success, mainly due to its misleading name, and re-releasing the game as a new edition at £29.99 makes a lot more sense. I agonised over the score, but since we don't have a review for the original on-site and we've made the value proposition clear, here's hoping that this 3DS flight sim finally gets its day in the sun.
- Thrilling arcade flight sim action
- Bite-sized missions, divergent campaign and plenty of upgrades/unlockables
- Best on New 3DS: looks great in super-stable 3D, handy C-stick camera, fun Amiibo extras
- Unintentional yet satisfying slow-motion effect during explosions (arguably a Con?)
- Graphically ageing when viewed without stereoscopic 3D
- More new content would have been nice - not worth a purchase if you already own the original
- Annoyingly unstable frame rate during explosions (arguably a Pro?)
The Short Version: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + is an exhilarating portable combat flight sim with some fun tweaks for New 3DS owners. Thrilling mechanics, plentiful missions and robust unlocks make it the Top Gun for genre fans who own the system.
Though there's little new content to warrant a purchase if you already bought the original, it's a great opportunity to finally get to grips with this under-appreciated 3DS gem for those who don't. You'll never know what you can do until you get it up as high as you can go.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Platform: 3DS (reviewed)
Developer: Project Aces | Access Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco