Why is it that publishers seek out the Top Gun license for a videogame rendition, but fail to capitalize on the concept as a successful videogame design? Konami started the trend with a god-awful NES game back nearly 20 years ago, with companies such as Titus, Spectrum HoloByte, and now Mastiff following up with equally crummy versions for the current generation's systems. The Nintendo DS game admittedly isn't all that terrible - it just doesn't really try hard to be anything more than a bland arcade game with some basic dogfighting thrown in.
At the very least, the development team has somewhat redeemed itself for its first effort on the Nintendo DS. Top Gun may share the same studio as the absolute crummy and unfun Blades of Thunder II from Summitsoft, but that level of crummy and unfunness doesn't quite reach Mastiff's production. This game, at the very least, feels a lot more competent. But even with its much more significant production levels, Top Gun still isn't much more than a bland Nintendo DS offering that doesn't do anything to stand out as product you'd actually willingly fork over the thirty bucks for.
Top Gun is, at its core, an arcade game - like Afterburner if you took it off its rails. But it poorly represents the license that brands the game - other than the familiar theme accompanying the almost sickeningly over-the-top patriotic logo, there's nothing here that even hints at a link to Tony Scott's Tom Cruise flick of the late 80s. Sure, the cost of the license can only get you so far, but come on - if you're going to use the "Maverick" name in-game, it'd be nice if it wasn't attached to a generic helmeted US Navy pilot. Santa Claus could be under there for all we know. I'm sure Kenny Loggins would have given up a couple of his songs for cheap, but instead we're given some seriously generic wanging guitar licks to provide an audio backdrop to the action.
Honestly, though, past Top Gun games didn't really do much to capitalize on the Top Gun name, either, so it's not all that surprising for the Nintendo DS game to go the generic route once again
at least in presentation. The actual game, for a Nintendo DS title, doesn't look all that bad. It features a 3D engine that's smooth and fast, and though the ground detail could use a little sprucing up it's not a game you'd consider "ugly." The sense of speed is definitely there as the designers put in a nice little fish-eye effect when hitting the afterburners - the 60 frames per second rate definitely adds to the quick energy.
The initial energy doesn't really last because the game doesn't really offer much in the way of "balance." There are three different aircraft to choose from, but they don't really differ much in performance - speed and control, they all feel pretty much the same in action. On top of this, the weapons don't vary enough, and the missions don't really encourage one over the other. Where it takes one or two missiles to take out an enemy, you can do the same with a two second spray of your infinite machinegun. The game puts a little too much power in players' hands with the fire-and-forget targetting missiles - sure, it's almost a necessity to have them in a dogfighting game, but they're a little too easy to utilize them successfully. And when you're targeted by an enemy craft, a simple weave to the left or right will take that lock off more times than it should.
At least the missions have been laid out into segments to make it impossible to simply go head-on into a challenge. Missions will go from ground targets to a bit of aerial dogfighting, and you only get one life to complete the chapter - smack into the ground or a cavern wall and you'll have to go right back to the start. It's not a simple game to complete because of this element which, admittedly, will get a little frustrating since deaths can come as easily as coming just a smidge too close to a dogfighting aircraft.
There's also the added benefit of four player dogfighting, and thankfully only one copy of the game's needed for a taste test of the mode. But you better get at least three or four players in the network chain if you want to get enjoyment out of it -- there's something about having targeting and seeking missiles that sort of ruins a one-on-one experience.
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