Reviewed: November 29, 2006
Released: October 24, 2006
I don't have that many fond childhood memories, but one that does comes to mind are the countless days, weekends, and sometimes entire weeks I would spend at my grandparent house out in the country (Indiana term for farmland). And while I did my fair share of playing outside, digging holes, wading in the creek, etc. one thing I did each and every visit was read through my uncle's collection of Peanuts paperbacks. He easily had 20+ books in his collection, which pretty much encompassed the complete works of Charles M. Schultz.
Even to this day I can vividly recall many of the adventures of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Pigpen, Peppermint Patty, and of course, Snoopy and Woodstock. I was always interested whenever Snoopy would don his scarf and goggles and climb aboard his doghouse to duel with the Red Baron, so when I stumbled upon a playable version of Snoopy vs. The Red Baron at E3 this year I was in pure heaven.
Namco Bandai has taken one of the best plot threads from one of the best comic strips ever and turned it into one of the most fun and endearing air combat games of the year. Available on console and PSP, I ultimately decided on the handheld version for my review and thankfully so because I just can't stop playing this game.
Snoopy vs. The Red Baron starts off with a great opening movie that brings the Peanuts cast to life in an almost eerie 3D visual style not unlike that one CG Simpsonís episode. It's cool and a bit disturbing, but thanks to some convincing voiceovers the presentation works.
The first thing to do is create your profile - you can have up to three so others can play the game without messing up your progress. You'll then want to dive headfirst into the surprisingly robust campaign mode.
The campaign kicks off with a short tutorial at the local ballpark. Complete all of Marcie's training exercises then fly into the billboard to start the first mission. New billboards (levels) will appear as you unlock them. You'll also upgrade your plane at Pigpen's dugout and equip your secondary weapons at the ballpark, which serves as the hub between campaign levels.
For those looking for instant action you can also check out the Dog Fight mode. This includes three variations like Top Dog, Flying Aces, and King of the Skies. You can setup these games with bots or play with full Ad Hoc wireless support in versus or team combat.
Controlling your plane is fairly basic with the d-pad or a-pad controlling the plane, the X fires the guns, and the square fires your secondary weapon. The circle button is your stunt toggle and when combined with a direction on the d-pad allows you to perform loops, spins, and evasive barrel rolls.
Gameplay is very similar to Crimson Skies, only Snoopy relies on plenty of pick-ups ranging from ammo and upgrades to coins you'll spend on your plane between missions. The nice thing is you don't have to fly through an item; often shooting it from a distance works just as good if not better.
Each mission will have balloons (usually ten) that will earn you new weapons when shot. There are also green letters in each level and if you get all these in an entire chapter you'll spell the name of a Peanut's character and unlock them for purchase at Pigpen's store.
Mugs of root beer replenish health, ammo crates refill your guns, and more than a dozen weapon upgrades are available in single and multiplayer modes.
There are some really creative levels and mission designs. Many are timed like the race through rings, so you have to balance your desire to collect items and shoot balloons with simply completing the course in time.
Woodstock is my favorite of the eleven supporting cast members. Not only does he make himself useful as a fully steerable cruise missile, you can also tie him to the back of your plane as your own personal tail gunner.
Missions all come with primary and secondary objectives, plus all of the pick-ups and enemy kills combine to designate a rank for each mission. These objectives have a surprising amount of variety and keep the game fresh, even several hours in. And some of the climactic boss fights are most impressive.
Enemies vary as well and you have various aircraft like fighter planes, copter bots, and blimps as well as sea vessels like PT Boats and subs, plus land targets like tanks, giant robots, and various buildings and structures.
Snoopy vs. The Red Baron is gorgeous at every level of production starting with the high-tech 3D modeled characters used for the wonderful cutscenes and followed up with some truly fresh and original level design that takes you to oceans and islands to creepy forests, and scorched battlefields.
The camera works exceptionally well keeping you and your objectives (and enemies) in view. The camera will momentarily pull back when you execute any special maneuvers, and mid-mission camera passes will indicate targets and potential threats.
Snoopy vs. The Red Baron just has a fun innocence about it; full of comic strip style art and fonts, with colorful menus that anyone can navigate. As good as this game looked on the PS2 it's twice as good on the PSP.
I was always amazed each time a new Charlie Brown TV special or movie came out because even though the kids doing the voices changed the characters always sounded the same. This same level of comfort-continuity extends into the remarkable voice work found in Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.
What is truly inspired is that while all the characters sound like we remember they are also playing specific roles in Snoopy's fantasy, so Lucy sounds like a general and Linus sounds like an intelligence officer, and Snoopy...well, he howls and laughs with that same high-pitched whine we all remember.
Sound effects are limited to plane engines, gunfire, and explosions - simple stuff that works well without pushing any boundaries.
Some of the cutscenes are quite lengthy and you become totally captivated with their feature-film like quality. If they ever made a new Charlie Brown movie today it would look and sound like this.
The great thing about Snoopy vs. The Red Baron is that anyone can play it and have a good time. Young kids can progress through the story by completing the minimum objectives while older gamers can spend twice as long collecting bonuses, unlocking characters, and completing secondary goals.
Expect a solid 15-20 hours to finish the game and double that estimate if you plan to finish it with a 100% and all unlockables. Plus, you have a totally fun and engaging multiplayer mode available provided you can find somebody else with a copy of the game.
Snoopy vs. The Red Baron was more than just a great game for me, and despite bringing back a flood of childhood memories I truly believe this game is the sleeper hit of the holiday season.
With all the exciting flight-action-combat of Crimson Skies combined with the endearing charm of Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang, this is one game you don't want to miss. It's great on the PS2 and even better on the PSP. So don't be a blockhead - get your copy today.