Reviewed: November 21, 2006
Released: October 24, 2006
Who in the $%&@ asked for this game? What panel of poindexters brainstormed the idea of digging up he late Charles Schultz’ Peanuts gang to star in a video game that was to be released more than two decades after their comic strips were ever even considered slightly cool?
Even crazier is that these same braniacs decided to make this Peanuts game of all things – Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, a flight combat game centered around Snoopy’s recurring fantasy about being the WWI Flying Ace. I mean, for a video game it makes sense, but for a game based on such a family friendly comic strip as Peanuts is, the idea of blowing up dozens of gunboats, airships and biplanes, is simply preposterous!
And that is why it is so astonishing that this Peanuts video game is surprisingly well made, and actually quite enjoyable.
As you can guess, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is a mission-based flight combat game loosely set in the skies above World War I. The pooch plays the part of the Flying Ace, who is tasked with fighting the evil Red Baron, who is holding Charlie Brown. In the process of fighting off the Baron and his band of baddies, a large portion of the Peanuts’ cast will make their appearance as side characters – Lucy and Linus are the military leaders, Sally Brown is a stealthy spy, Marcie runs the flight school, and even Pigpen makes his appearance as proprietor of the upgrades shop.
The flight controls are simple and responsive, featuring the standard analog stick movement, weapons selection and trick moves mapped to the face buttons, and very useful turbo and brake mapped to the shoulder buttons. The game only loosely accounts for gravity – which is good in an arcade flier of this type and really makes the game accessible for gamers of any age.
Snoopy’s illustrious Sopwith Camel is fitted with a stock machine gun a unique secondary weapon, which is selectable from the home base (the neighborhood baseball diamond). These weapons are usually quite cute in nature – water balloons, rocks, bottle rockets, and bee-shaped “Stinger” missiles.
The missions are generally quite interesting and well designed – usually starting with the announcement of a single goal, then adding additional primary and secondary goals as the mission progresses. These goals might have you protecting Linus’ gunboat from enemy attack, and then branch out into collecting a certain cases or documents.
As expected, a majority of the missions will have you destroying wave after wave of enemy sorties from the sky, but many also a fair amount of ground and water-based targets that need to be dispatched – these can range from enemy submarines and tanks, to large drilling rigs, and even some natural obstructions.
Because of their branching nature, some of these levels will take upwards of 20 minutes to complete, which is quite surprising for a game that appears to be aiming itself toward the kid demographic – especially when retrying a level generally means retrying it from the beginning. Most kids would not have the attention span to sit through a series of 20-minute long flying missions, but Snoopy vs. the Red Baron’s branching goal structure keeps things exciting, interesting, and easy enough to give young gamers a constant feeling of accomplishment.
Not all of the missions are combat-based, some will task Snoopy with checkpoint racing against the infamous Red Baron – these missions can be a lot of fun, that is until you miss one of the small hoop-type checkpoints and have to turn around and try to line the plane back up into the proper direction in the narrow racing environments.
Snoopy v. the Red Baron also places a number of collection goals in each level – coins, balloons, letters, etc. – that need to be completed to unlock extra characters and planes in the multiplayer Dogfight mode. The collecting is overly easy to achieve, and serves to add time to the 7 or so hours it takes to run straight through the mission mode.
As with the gameplay, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron’s visuals are likewise surprisingly solid. The overall look is the same blend of 3D character design and cell-shaded environments that we see in most of the other comic and cartoon-based video games – but done a bit better, due to their large size, interesting color choices, and cool background details.
It is always a bit shocking to see your favorite two-dimensional characters rendered in 3D (anyone remember their first Simpsons game? Yikes!), and seeing Snoopy and the rest of Peanuts crew rounded out for the first time was no different. Charlie is the most disconcerting of the crew – and everything from his shirt to his little hair squiggle looks a bit, er…off.
As I mentioned earlier, the environments are quite large and feature a ton of interesting little details going on in the background. The visual effects – smoke, fire and explosions – are surprisingly realistic looking, and the clouds in the background (this is a flying game, mind you) are flat-out amazing.
That’s not to say that there are not a few issues on the visual front – clipping is a major issue, and can be significant enough to end a round if the gamer’s plane gets stuck to the scenery. Thankfully, this clipping only rears its ugly head when flying close to buildings, trees, or mountains – so, since most of the game takes place out in the great wide open, it all plays fine for the most part.
However, there are a handful missions that bring you close to mountain walls or into wooded areas and the clipping suddenly becomes a factor. Granted, clipping through objects can oftentimes help in cutting corners in the timed missions – until you get stuck in a tree, that is.
Call me blasphemous, but it is my opinion that Peanuts shows – and now this game – have always been incredibly weak with regard to sound.
Have you watched one of the classic Peanuts’ holiday specials lately? Compared to the cartoons of today, anything Peanuts is really, really, really (yes, that’s really, three times over) dull and quiet – and by quiet, I mean monotonously quiet. A type of monotony that can only come from a constantly looping background track of Dave Brubeck jazz, and emotionless characters who speak only about once every five minutes and have absolutely nothing to say. Boring…
Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is very faithful to the shows in terms of sound; constantly looping Brubeck, endless minutes of silence broken by random chat sequences that feature an emotionless cast of characters that say absolutely nothing. Really, the game is only slightly more exciting due to the constant rat-at-tat-tat of the machine guns and the whoosh-booms of the other mounted weaponry – which again is slight disconcerting to hear within a Peanuts game.
The characters’ voices all match quite closely to their original actors, with some sounding authentically (and almost disturbingly) young – and by young, I mean children. While the actors voices match their subjects quite closely, an are equally as emotionless in their delivery as they were thirty years ago – the fact that they are obviously reading off of cue-cards (complete with mid-sentence pauses and mispronunciations) is a frankly, a bit sad.
The sound quality is clearly the low point in Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, but the bar set by the shows was not that high in the first place and frankly, it gets the job done with a bit of nostalgia to boot.
Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is surprisingly full featured for the flight combat game it is. I was impressed by the length, quality, and reasonable difficulty of the missions. I still finished the crux of the 20-plus missions in only a matter of 7 or eight hours, but I had a pretty good time doing it. And considering that the number of unlockable characters and planes is outstanding, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron will have you running and re-running missions just to see what you are going to get next.
The game also allows the gamer to take part in simple dogfights either against a friend (split-screen only) or against enemy bots. The dogfights are fine, but the AI is fairly glitchy and often gets itself stuck in the scenery – and playing against a friend seriously limits your view making the multiplayer game infinitely more frustrating than the story-based mission mode.
It may not be the best flying game out there, and it might be centered around an out-of-date license, and it might seem really weird that the family-friendly fare of Peanuts has suddenly merged with the likes of machine guns, smart bombs and exploding vehicles. But make no mistake, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is a very solid offering and is one of the most enjoyable flight combat games to his the platform in the past year.