Arcade action done very right.
Red Wings: Aces of the Sky is a heavily arcade influenced, World War One, air combat game. I was immediately taken in by its instant accessibility and strong art design. While the gameplay can be repetitive, there is something about Red Wings that kept me coming back for more.
Across two campaigns you’ll play on both sides of the war. There is little in the way of political statements, with what story there is focusing exclusively on the pilots themselves. It plays out in narrations placed over a comic book, that crop up every few missions. While not always terribly engrossing, it helped me to ground the battles within the historical timeline of the war. Ultimately however, Red Wings is first and foremost an arcade shooter, with the story serving more as a garnish than a main course.
Gameplay is where Red Wings truly shines. Most missions will challenge you to take out multiple waves of enemies in the wide open sky. Early on you’ll be up against other planes similar to your own, but with each new mission new twists and new enemy types are introduced. Green blimps need to be shot down but doing so will call in a new wave of enemies. Red blimps will continuously call in enemies until they’re shot down. I do wish that these were a bit more coloblind friendly, but an indicator appears as you get closer to them which alleviates the issue somewhat. There is a constant focus on managing the number of enemies in the air at any given time. This is especially important because you’re almost always exposed. The only real cover is clouds so battlefield awareness is key. There is also a fuel gauge to manage which depletes faster the higher your throttle is. Rings float around the stage and can be collected to refill both fuel and health. Some missions will also revolve around you flying through a set number of these rings. While on a macro level it seems repetitive, the scoring system is combined with light RPG elements to keep things at least a little fresh. At the end of each mission, up to three stars are awarded based on performance. These stars then act as points to be spent on upgrades. These modify things like fuel performance, weapon damage, and more. Each plane (more of which are unlocked as you progress) has four abilities which can also be upgraded. These abilities allow you to do things like barrel rolls, call in reinforcements, or instant kill an enemy. The entire game can also be played in split screen with a friend. Given that it can be quite hard to get higher scores on later levels, the extra wingman is a big help.
On top of the standard gameplay there are also a few bombing missions. In these scenarios your plane is viewed from overhead. The challenge here comes in dodging anti-aircraft fire while dropping bombs on select targets. While in theory it adds some variety to gameplay, these segments are comparatively bland when compared to the rest of the game. They’re not outright bad, but their relative simplicity and 2D presentation almost makes them feel like they’re from a different game.
The overall presentation of Red Wings is fantastic. Music is bombastic and the art style gives off a comic book-like impression. This also helps with visibility offering a strong contrast between enemies and the sky around them. While the story segments are simple still images, their presentation as a literal comic book fits the overall design well.
Red Wings: Aces of the Sky is a surprisingly addictive game. It is a prime example of a very simple gameplay loop executed extremely well. It is a focused experience and I think that is for the best. While I did run into some mild colorblind accessibility issues, they didn’t slow down my enjoyment too much. Arguably where it stumbles most is in trying to force in diversity via the bombing missions. When Red Wings accepts its own simplicity it is brilliant. The local co-op makes for a wonderful and unexpected addition, and strong art design helps to maintain its charm for many hours. Red Wings: Aces of the Sky is no doubt destined to become a hidden gem of the Switch eShop.