IGN Review of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron
Snoopy is one of the most incredible animals around. He's been a writer, an astronaut, a baseball player and even a scout troop leader for Woodstock and his friends. But how many comic strip animals can claim to be a World War I ace? For more than 50 years, Charlie Brown's beagle has entertained fans with his daring war exploits and dogfights with his nemesis, the infamous Red Baron. Now, Namco Bandai and Smart Bomb Interactive is taking Peanuts fans into the wild blue yonder with Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron.
The Campaign mode is the primary thrust of the game, and centers around a tale that Snoopy has recently spun about his heroics facing down the dreaded Red Baron and his Flying Circus. The rest of the Peanuts gang makes an appearance fighting alongside Snoopy as well: Lucy is a field general who commands Linus, her intelligence officer brother, to give reports on the war. Sally, Charlie Brown's sister, is a spy who is constantly being sent into harm's way. As for Snoopy's owner? He's a prisoner of war captured by the fiendish Baron when he discovers plans for the Doodlebug, a missile of enormous power. You'll undertake separate missions across six main story "worlds" as you repel the Baron's troops. Snoopy will defend allied bases while invading enemy strongholds, rescue friends and fend off attacks from ground, sea and air forces with his trusty Sopwith Camel.
Curiously, you aren't flying Snoopy's doghouse into battle, as fans of the comic strip and animated cartoons may be familiar with. Instead, you're taking to the skies in an actual bi-plane, complete with machine guns and secondary weapons. You aren't alone in the skies, as your wingman Woodstock will fly beside you and even man a miniature towed turret (usually during boss battles) that he'll use to shoot down incoming missiles and shred enemy defenses. Sometimes these enemies will release root beer mugs when they're defeated, which will restore Snoopy's health, while other times they'll release coins which can be redeemed at Pig Pen's store.
There are ten secondary weapons within the game, such as homing bottle rockets, pumpkin seed shotguns and water balloon launchers. Even Woodstock gets in on the action with a guided missile that you can control and fly into enemies. There are also plane upgrades that are available, boosting the strength of your guns, increasing your health or strengthening your stunt gauge. The stunt gauge is important because every flying loop, spin, Immelman turn, or turbo boost you use depletes your stunt meter. While it does refill over time, an empty stunt meter leaves you vulnerable to attack from your opponents. While balancing weapons and evasive maneuvers may seem daunting to some novice fliers, Marcie runs a flight school out of the hub of the game (the Peanuts Gang baseball field) where you can practice firing your moves and weapons skills in a safe environment before taking on the Baron's troops.
Taking on a mission in Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron isn't just a simple affair of destroying a target or simply getting from one place to another without detection by the enemy. Many of the missions have primary and secondary objectives that will pop up as you progress through the sortie, and while you don't have to fulfill every secondary task, you'll receive ratings at the end of each operation. You'll be evaluated on things like how many goals you completed, how long it took you to finish the mission, as well as how many secrets such as balloons or hidden letters you discover. For instance, if you can finish every single objective and find everything, you'll be rated as a General. If you miss one of those goals, you'll get ranked as a Colonel, and so forth.
While each mission is relatively engaging, there are some problems with the design of each level. For one, the way missions are designed isn't really conducive to exploring every stage. Many of the enemies that you need to take down or the objects you need to interact with are placed immediately in front of you in an almost linear manner. As a result, you will be able to fly through each task rather quickly, leading you towards the next stage of an objective without discovering every single balloon or letter scattered through each stage. Another thing about missions is that your secondary weapons are way too powerful and non-distinct. Regardless of whether you happen to have a bottle rocket, the boomerang or the potato gun, every weapon homes in on its target if you manage to get a lock on an enemy. While that does make the game rather easier for young kids, it also turns secondary weapons into one, two or three shot insta-kills. Considering that there aren't additional difficulty levels, this can make the game rather easy to fly through.
Unlocking every secondary weapon or even powering up your plane isn't really necessary either to complete the game, which will only take about 8 or so hours to complete. With the exception of the weapons that you'll need for specialized tasks (usually once per game world), you'll never need to reuse these items during missions. While you can take them into missions that you've already completed to find various secret coin stashes, you're probably going to rely on your favorite weapon only to get through each stage. Plus, considering that you can't change secondary weapons during a mission, you're practically stuck with whatever you've chosen on the hub. Outside of that, the secrets are, for lack of a better term, practically useless. The balloons don't actually unlock anything if you manage to collect all of them in a game world or even through the entire game. Similarly, if you manage to collect every letter that spells out a Peanuts character, you'll still need to pay a thousand coins to unlock their character for multiplayer play. What's the point of including that feature it if you still need to pay for it?
Speaking of multiplayer play, there are three separate game modes within the Dogfight section. While it may seem like different game types, they're really just variants of deathmatch modes. Top Dog is your standard deathmatch in the skies, where you can determine how many kills it takes to win a round. Flying Aces is a timed game where you see how many kills you can get in a specific time period. Finally, King of the Skies only gives you one plane, and once you've been shot down, you return as a ghost. Every one of the games can potentially be turned into a team combat game, and you can tweak various settings like the amount of time for a game, amount of kills to win or level of health in an ace game. Players can also choose one of four levels and one of thirteen characters to play as, each with their own planes and stats governing their speed, stunt and health meters. Multiplayer games also feature four special multiplayer weapons that impart invisibility, invulnerability and specific weapon upgrades. If you aren't able to track down friends, you can plug in up to seven additional bots to fight it out with you.
For those players that can track down up to five friends, the Network mode allows you to play the three game types from Dog Fight mode via Ad Hoc. Unlike the Dog Fight mode, you can't assign bots in this mode, so you'll have to find other people to play against. The Network Mode also includes three new game types to play through: Tree Capture, Blanket Thief and Pumpkin Bomb. Tree Capture is your standard Capture the Flag style game, where you try to steal the tree from your opponent and deliver it to your base. Blanket Thief is somewhat similar, although you're tasked with capturing Linus' blanket which is at the center of the map and holding it as long as possible before you're shot out of the sky. Finally, Pumpkin Bomb gives your teams a few attempts to deliver a pumpkin bomb to a pumpkin patch. One person on the team is randomly assigned the pumpkin, and his or her wingmen are tasked with shielding them from incoming fire so they can deliver their bomb.
Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron captures the style of the Peanuts comic extremely well. From the visual style of the cutscenes that shows the situations that each character gets themselves in to the variety of levels, you'll feel like you're taking on the role of the flying ace. Some textures are generic, particularly ground textures, generic trees or backgrounds. There's also a fair amount of clipping that crops up within the PSP version. These are balanced out with the detailed enemies, impressive particle effects (particularly with bottle rocket explosions), and motion blur effects when you trigger your speed boosts. The camera is quite good, and imparts a great sense of scale and height as you perform your dives and climbing attacks. Similarly, the jazzy piano during the hub carries the Peanuts theme along perfectly. Some of the other music selections, particularly as Snoopy's plane gets damaged, imparts a sense of action during each mission. The voice acting is perhaps one of the weakest moments of the game, but since there isn't that much of it in the game, you won't be too dismayed with it.
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