Fans of the Ace Combat franchise aren't likely to embrace Ace Combat Advance. In addition to the watered-down graphics and audio that go along with being on the weaker Game Boy Advance hardware, this portable air combat game is also missing many of the aspects that made the console Ace Combat games so unique and likable. Forget the rich storytelling, the cinematic intermissions, the real-world airplanes, and the challenging mission objectives--they're all gone. What's left over is a fairly playable, albeit generic, portable air combat game with a passable selection of fake planes and simple missions.
No 3D here, but the top-down view does allow free-roaming movement.
As far as features go, there isn't much here. The game has one play mode, which is a single-player campaign that spans 12 missions. Missions generally take anywhere between four and eight minutes to complete, and the goals include the typical set of dogfights, bombing runs, escort missions, and reconnaissance flights that are part and parcel of every air combat game. There are 10 different planes to pick from. When the game opens, players are limited to a fictionalized mock-up of the MiG 29, called the "F-C Talon," but new aircraft can be unlocked in the GBA game by completing missions with an "S" ranking, which is identical to how it's done in the console Ace Combat games. Preflight briefings describe whether you'll face a majority of ground or air targets, and there are six different secondary bomb and missile types that you can equip based on that information. This overall selection of missions, planes, and weapons is fine compared to other GBA shoot-'em-ups, but it's woefully lacking compared to the dozens of missions, planes, and weapons typically found in a console-based Ace Combat game.
Since the Game Boy Advance isn't a 3D powerhouse, the development team didn't bother to try to re-create the first-person 3D viewpoint found in the console Ace Combat games. Instead, they've gone with a top-down viewpoint that uses standard 2D backgrounds and objects. This gives the game a look that's more in line with traditional shoot-'em-ups, such as 1942 or Raiden, although Ace Combat Advance does improve upon the classic look by letting players turn around and fly freely anywhere within the large mission area. The audio is also less punchy on the GBA. There are no voice acting or voice clips whatsoever, and the music and sound effects are exceedingly generic--especially the machine gun and missile effects, which sound like they were produced by recording a typewriter.
Unfortunately, the graphics, while crisp, aren't very imaginative or colorful. The same small handful of enemy vehicles and planes are recycled constantly, and tanks and antiair batteries have a tendency to blend into the scenery because of their all-tan and all-gray color schemes. It's also nearly impossible to figure out where you are or where you need to be going by simply looking down at the terrain, as the scenery is made up of large swatches of mud and trees without any landmarks (such as rivers, lakes, cities, or roadways).