Anyone who's been a part of the Game Boy Advance scene should know the drill by now: GBA versions of console games will never equal their successor. Some developers attempt the original game's look and feel by utilizing the system's strengths or attempting programming technology to force the system to pull off effects it was never meant to do. Other developers resign to the fact that there's no way to do it properly, and simply take the namesake to build a fresh experience on the handheld. Ace Combat Advance
fits in the second category, but even when you accept that an "accurate console version of Ace Combat
would not have worked on the handheld's hardware, what you get in this form doesn't really work all that well, either.
Human Soft headed up the Game Boy Advance "conversion," which is anything but. Ace Combat Advance isn't even Ace Combat in spirit. It's a game that takes the idea of piloting different jetcraft in missions, but the gameplay itself is so far removed from what you'd expect from a game design that, up to this point, focused on in-air dogfighting. It's more a 2D shooter than a flight fighter, which admittedly wouldn't be so bad if the game was designed a little better than it had been.
I would compare Ace Combat Advance to another Namco property: Assault, a pre-Super NES arcade game that spotlighted a very Super NES-like Mode 7 graphics mode in a futuristic tank shooter. Ace Combat Advance employs an extremely similar technique for its game engine, but where it works for an on-the-ground vehicle -- like, say, a tank -- the same can't be said for it being used for aircraft where players are expected to ascend and descend at different altitudes during a mission.
Essentially, players can fly anywhere in a 360 degree fashion, but all planes, enemy or player-piloted, fly at the same altitude. Players can descend to ground level to attack ground targets, but that's as far as vertical control goes in this game. It essentially becomes a game of weaving from sky to surface and back again to avoid enemy fire during the game's missions. Dogfighting is incredibly basic, as players simply fly towards an incoming enemy until it weaves out of the way. The player's jet is always on the lower portion of the screen, which actually works against the design since forward visibility is incredibly low due to the GBA's widescreen design. And while it certainly is challenging to stay alive and to complete the dozen missions, it's not entirely all that fun. And once you learn the attack pattern of ground and air targets, the challenge does kind of disappear...making Ace Combat Advance more of a "task" or "chore" than a "game."
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