This is pain you have to experience first-hand to appreciate.
Picture yourself flying over a vapid, pixelated landscape. Half of this flatland is green while the other half is blue. Your mission is to hunt down and destroy enemy tanks, which are slowly rolling their way toward the blue half of the screen. You can’t see the tanks, or really anything at all, until you descend towards the ground. Suddenly, trees pop into existence. You check your radar, handily displayed on the touch screen. Look at all of those orange dots! That’s a lot of tanks! But…why do the tanks look like trees? Suddenly, a square of pixels jumps out in front of you. At a whopping two pixels in height - dwarfed by the foliage - you wonder if it’s a tank. And so you begin firing, but your shots fly over the top of the pixels. You put your plane’s nose down and begin coasting dangerously close to the ground below. The tank roars closer, reaching its full, impressive six pixel height. You shoot until the screen says it’s been destroyed, and as you’re cheering, you crash your plane right into the turf.
This is your first impression of Destineer’s Spitfire Heroes: Tales of the Royal Air Force, and it speaks volumes. One can make it past this area with determination and a little trial-and-error, but there isn’t much incentive since the experience doesn’t improve from there. With frustrating gameplay and worse pop-up than the original SNES Star Fox, in Spitfire Heroes war is not hell - it’s just extremely boring and aggravating.
Controlling your plane is done with the D-Pad. The touch screen displays your plane’s “health” and radar, but isn’t used for much else besides graphical filler. Use care when easing up on the throttle, because you can stall and, predictably, explode. You can also move the throttle forward to boost (“Fox! Use the boost!”), but doing so decreases your turn radius. Unfortunately, the side effect of this is that you rarely see your attackers.
You can perform barrel-rolls (“Fox! Do a barrel roll!”), but they seem to have little effect besides exciting your pursuers. You’ll see red dots on your radar closing on your position, and soon shots begin to pummel your little fighter with virtually no warning. No amount of awkward dipping or listing lazily to the left can shake these enemy hot-shots, and barrel-rolling does nothing. Soon you’re blown out of the sky and gritting your teeth.
The R button fires your guns while the L button is used to activate auto-targeting, which does little besides making your plane’s movement imprecise and unpredictable. On one occasion the auto-targeting drove my apparently suicidal pilot directly into the path of an enemy fighter, causing a mid-air collision. It isn’t very helpful!
Spitfire Heroes’ gameplay can be confusing and annoying all at once. For example, on one occasion I destroyed all three fighters I was pitted against by bobbing, weaving, and holding down the fire button. I noticed six more tanks had spawned, and I destroyed them too. Mission over! I won! But I actually lost, because I took too long and died too often. I couldn’t recall one of my mission objectives being “don’t get shot down”, but apparently that’s what it took to win a battle back then.
From a graphical standpoint your plane looks great, but backgrounds are pixelated as are enemy tanks, fighters, and trees. Explosions are 2D, along with the “particle effects” of your gunfire. Landscapes are divided neatly into three colors: light blue for the sky, darker blue for the ocean, and green for the land, with a dash of light brown thrown in for sand.
The underpowered graphics engine also hampers gameplay; a later mission has you protecting an air base against seemingly hundreds of German bombers and their fighter plane escorts. This is an impossible task given the game’s limited draw distance, and this factor combined with pixelated object models makes firing with accuracy a shot in the dark, so to speak. Spitfire Heroes’ graphics are underwhelming, to say the least.
The sound is equally uninspiring. Aside from the roar of your engines and gunfire, there is no sound. No music, no real sound effects, no voiceovers, no nothing. DS gamers expect better, especially this far into the system’s lifespan.
Spitfire Heroes supports multi-card local wireless play, which isn’t likely to get much use besides commiserating with somebody else that happened to pick up the game. Your time would be much better spent elsewhere.