Awful default controls and a story based on an anime movie that's not very popular outside of Japan are not the ingredients that you expect to find in a good game, but The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces somehow works despite having these two strikes against it. This combat flight simulation from Namco's in-house Project Aces developer (best known for the Ace Combat series) doles out a ton of adrenaline-fuelled excitement that you can really get into as long as you take a pass on the motion-sensing control scheme, as well as turn your brain off as soon as your wheels touch the ground and somebody starts to talk.
Varied mission goals include that WWII flight-sim standby: dam busting.
That control issue is up front and center as soon as you start playing The Sky Crawlers, though you can thankfully deal with it pretty easily and get on to the shoot-'em-up stuff. The main control system touted on the back of the game box as some kind of "realistic, intuitive" revolution in flight sims is an absolute nightmare. Here, you're strongly encouraged to fly planes with the nunchuk and the Wii Remote, with the former acting as a free-moving flight stick and the latter as a throttle. It's an interesting experiment, but it doesn't work. The biggest problem is the lack of a base for the nunchuk. Instead of manipulating a typical flight stick stuck on a desk, you're flailing about with the nunchuk in midair, pulling back, pushing down, and twisting from side-to-side. Thankfully, you can play with a traditional gamepad like the Wii's Classic Controller or the system's supported GameCube pads. And this option isn't totally dumbed down because you can choose from either the straightforward basic controls or the expert option where you need to know what "yaw" means.
If you make this controller switch, then you'll soon discover a captivating arcade combat flight sim. You play as Lynx (later called Cheetah and Black Cat as he builds his air cred) who is a pilot for the hotshot Cheetah Squad in an alternate reality where a war-weary populace allows major corporations to stage phony conflicts. The thinking appears to be that you won't want to fight a real war if you can watch a fake one unfold in the skies over your cities, which is a little dumb. Storytelling holds true to the Japanese anime style of the original movie, which builds nicely over the 18 or so missions of the single-player campaign (there is no multiplayer) to the point where you sort of care about the characters...even while you want to drive pencils into your ears to stop the overly enthusiastic voice acting and Muzak score. The look of the game is appealingly retro, with both the planes and cars glimpsed in cutscenes looking like models straight out of the 1940s and 1950s. There are some nods to sci-fi, mostly with the arrival of genetically engineered teen pilots called kildren, but for the most part, the game feels like something taking place decades in the past. The plot can be a little cloying, particularly some of the poetic odes to flying and countless romantic shots of planes flying toward the sun stuck awkwardly into cutscenes. At least you can ignore most of the schlock because the story is basic enough that you can skip the cinematics and not miss anything.