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3DS Review: Iron Combat: War in the Air

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Developed by Amzy and recently published by Teyon in North America, Iron Combat: War in the Air is an action shoot-em-up game. In this game, we control a next-gen mecha-girl that can transform into plane at will. Both mode offers a distinct control, with their own advantage and disadvantage.

The game is split into multiple missions. In story mode, we have to complete 16 missions to reach the ending, the missions then split into two paths. In total, the whole game offers 20 missions. Some mission have boss, while some is simply wiping every enemies you found. The boss can be a huge battleship or Ratel, a next-gen unit like the character we control, which we encounter multiple times throughout the story. Everything sounds promising, but could the game can live up to it’s premise?

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The first time we start the game, we only presented with a rather bland menu. Starting a story mode, the game just present us with a couple of static images with texts running to tell us the background story. After that, we are taken directly into the game and Selen – the navigator/assistant – will start talking to us and explain what we need to do in the mission, she’s also the one that’ll tell us the story apart of the written briefing before each mission. Selen voice is in Japanese with subtitle on top of the screen.

Selen will also keep talking to us during the missions, often compliment us as we destroy the enemies. The voice acting is excellent, however, seeing subtitle while at the same time engaging in fast-paced action can screw you sometimes. So in the end, we really have to choose whether to engage in the action and ignore whatever she is saying, or try to hold back as much as we can while she is talking and we are reading the subtitle. It’s in a similar way as how Kid Icarus: Uprising proceed the story, while I enjoyed the Japanese VA, this is where a dub can really enhance the experience.

Each mission consist of battling enemies in a limited square spaces. There’s some background, but there’s no terrain nor any obstacle in our path. While it gives us a sense of fighting in an open spaces, it’s actually just a square, limited space and we’ll hit the wall pretty quickly. This is in contrast with Liberation Maiden – another excellent shoot-em-up eShop title – which actually gives us a real open space.

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The enemies consists of battle tanks, battle jets or something in between. Their design is rather generic and there’s not much of variation. While I want to complain that the color of the enemies is all grey (in exception of Ratel), this might be a rather realistic approach. Enemies can fire missiles, rapid machine gun shot or a powerful charged shot, although the last one gives us the shooting path as they use a guided laser, so it’s easy to evade.

Similarly, our weapon consists of a machine gun that could fire rapidly, missiles that can be locked into enemies and a charged shot if we are in plane mode or a blade attack for close-combat if we are in mecha mode. The machine gun had the least power but is the easiest to use, the missiles is the most useful as it’s powerful and will lock into enemies, while blade attack is the strongest, but require us to get close into the enemies and risks getting hit, but is the most satisfying if we can execute it. The charged shot in plane mode is harder to execute too, but gives us the most destructive power.

In mecha mode, our aim is automated and locked into one enemy. In plane mode though, it’s using a rather realistic plane control, there’s no automated aim, but we can lock the missiles. Plane mode also has longer range and deal more damages. Transformation between two mode is essential in our strategy to defeat the enemies and bosses effectively. The plane mode gives us boost when we need it, while mecha mode gives us dashing to move around quickly.

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The bosses has a couple of variation, but mostly in the form of a massive battleship, with some surprising variation like a flying battleship and even, a huge tower. Each battleship is the same affair as they contains various parts, which could be a missile pot, a machine gun or a huge main cannon. Each of these parts is vulnerable and is our main targets, although there’s also some static vulnerable part. It’s essentials to switch the target so we can destroy the most damaging – or annoying – part first, for example, destroying the missile pot will prevent further missiles attack.

The battleship didn’t activate every parts at once and instead, it’s done in multiple stages. So after we destroyed every available parts in one stage, another stage begin with another parts become active. There’s a few stages until we can destroy the battleship for good and finish the mission.

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Another boss is in the form of Ratel, which is the same next-gen unit as us. Ratel has the same weapons as us, also has the same mobility, she’s as quick as us! Fighting Ratel can be very frustating, her missiles is also quicker than regular enemies, but it’s manageable – just make sure to watch the energy as we spam the dash – and it’s quite satisfying once we defeat her. As she moves really quick, the only effective weapon against her is the missiles, which is also the attack we have to look out the most.

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The game also have achievements for those completionist. Other than that, that’s basically everything the game has to offer. So how’s the experience?

When I just started, the game is pretty frustating at first, as the controls can be a bit confusing. However, this is a game we need to learn and get use to, after that though, it’s become a second nature – although admitedly, I still couldn’t control the plane mode very well. Transforming and executing various attacks gives quite a satisfying feeling when I destroy enemies. All in all, it’s a pretty addicting game once we get use to the controls.

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There’s a couple of down side however. The mission 9 for example, with the boss battleship moves in circle really fast, to the point that it’s become very frustating. We need to chase it around, or waited for it to turn back and moving away again. And as with any battleship, there’s multiple stages until we defeated it. Another down side is there’s a huge frame drop when we encounter some battleship, with the worse offender being the mission 13A. The frame drop makes it almost impossible to get close to the battleship, although it runs a little better when we keep our distance. That said, the game runs smooth most of the time.

The 3D effect is pretty nice and there’s no noticeable frame drop when we use it -in exception with some battleship encounter- although, with the fast-paced action nature, keeping the 3D effect can be hard in old 3DS. The graphic is nothing spectacular however, music is fine but could be better with more variety, while the voice acting is excellent.

Conclusion

This is a game with a steep learning curve, if you are willing to learn, then you’ll get a pretty satisfying experience. As a shoot-em-up genre, Iron Combat: War in the Air is a nice addition on the eShop and if you are a fan of the genre, I can highly recommended it. The game is mostly about gameplay though, so there’s no fancy cut-scenes, the story was told by the voice acting alone and the briefing text before each mission.

For a rather low $6.99 price, Iron Combat: War in the Air has plenty to offer. There’s some flaws, but if you can look past that, it’s an overall enjoyable experience. With two paths to complete the game and achievements, it also has a good replay value. I ended up beating the game 3 times, and scored almost 19 hours play time, which is not bad at all for a budget eShop title.

If you are looking for a similar game on the eShop, I can highly recommend Liberation Maiden from Level 5. I also highly recommend Kid Icarus: Uprising for you shoot-em-up fans. If you are into 2D shoot-em-up, Steel Empire is also another recommendation from me, although the price is quite high.

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