Outside of Battlefield 1, you don’t see too many mainstream video games set during World War I. Not to make light of a conflict that destroyed lives, homes, and tore families apart, but WWI isn’t considered particularly “sexy.” Weapons technology and machines of war were crude and didn’t have the "elegance” of those used in WWII. World War I also hasn’t had a Saving Private Ryan moment with which to bolster fevered interest among the masses - not that it should be treated as an exploitable cash grab. Having said that, it’s the low-tech and improvised war materiel of War World I that can make an interesting video game. Battlefield 1 and Valiant Hearts did a good job of showcasing the horror show that was the ground war with its soul crushing trench warfare and deadly mustard gas attacks. Skies of Fury DX for the Nintendo Switch tackles The Great War, not from the ground but from a romanticized and action-oriented view of the air battles between the Royal Air Force and what looks to be the German Luftstreitkräfte as they battle for air superiority over the Front.
At first glance, Skies of Fury DX doesn’t really go out of its way to identify itself as a World War I video game. The copy provided on the Nintendo website offers more information, presenting it as a recreation of the events surrounding Bloody April in 1917, a British air support campaign during the Battle of Arras. When you complete a chapter in the campaign, a comic book page details a pilot’s life in Britain’s Royal Air Force (even though, technically, they were the Royal Flying Corps until 1918) during the conflict. Other than that, though, there isn't much to connect it to World War I because missions are self-contained battle of “you” versus “them." In other words, don’t come to this game if you’re looking for a sobering, interactive essay about World War I and the impression it made on the human condition. Skies of Fury DX is all about getting you into the air and shooting down planes with as little interruptions as possible.
The game takes an arcade-like approach to piloting the aircraft from the era. An easy to grasp control system means you don’t have to manage airspeed, obey physics and gravity, or worry about stalling mid-air. Pitch, yaw, and throttle are mapped to both analog sticks and the controls are accessible enough that the planes could almost fly themselves. This gives you more time to focus on shooting the enemies out of the skies. As a matter of fact, Skies of Fury DX offers the same breezy controls and smooth gameplay reminiscent of Flight Squadron featured in 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront. There’s a general smoothness and intuitive grace to the dance of air combat, banking in and out of cloud banks for cover as you hunt enemies down. Special mid-air acrobatics are mapped to the direction buttons and offer means to avoid fire from behind and both flanks.
Shooting down other planes is as easy as lining them up in your cross-hairs and holding down the attack button until they explode or you run out of bullets (and sit through a short reload cycle). Experience points are earned with every kill and special feat - like sustained kills over a short period of time - that turn into skill points used for a skill tree that looks like something out of Borderlands. By investing these points to the growth of your pilot's skill you can decrease reload speeds and the build-up time for your special abilities. Experience points also adds to the player’s rank, increasing once every XP threshold is met. Player rank has no significant effect on the game itself but rather manages the skins and cross-hair stairs earned from lootboxes. I wanted to wrinkle my nose at these virtual prize boxes but thankfully, they only contain cosmetic goods. These items, however, don’t have any intrinsic value nor do they provide any gameplay enhancements, making them both worthless and pointless.
Skies of Fury DX shows its mobile roots by having not that much to do in it. Out of three game types, Survival is the best of the bunch. In it, you (and a friend!) contend with an endless supply of enemy pilots, earning the occasional perk and gameplay boost the longer you survive. Many of the enemy pilots are pretty docile at first but as you get deeper into the game, they grow increasingly more aggressive. The Campaign suffers from a lack of variety. Missions are split across five chapters with ten missions each. Those missions consist of either a strike against a few waves of enemies, escorting four planes as they autopilot across the map, and the most odd duck of the group, a timed ring race where flying through a ring adds time to the clock. Once you’ve played the first three missions, you’ve played the entire campaign. What’s even more disappointing is that the German half of the campaign is pretty much identical to that of RAF. Pilots of both sides control exactly the same and any skill points spent on one pilot transfer over to the other. What really sucks is that you have to play all ten missions for the RAF and German pilot, for a total of twenty, to unlock the next chapter where you can do it all again. The third and less interesting game type is Versus, a negligible game variant designed to pit you and a friend together in a head-to-head battle.
I kind of want to knock Skies of Fury DX for being another mobile port resurrected for the Nintendo Switch because it’s egregiously repetitive. Compared to my experience with the Switch version of Manticore: Galaxy on Fire, another mobile port that ended up having some pretty good depth and gameplay, I want to wag my finger at Nintendo. Although, if pressed to admit how often I told myself, “Oh, gosh. Just one more stage and then it’s back to chores,” I wouldn’t be ashamed to say. The gameplay loop is kind of awful but piloting an airplane and shooting others out of the sky is really satisfying, especially as they fall to the earth trailing black smoke before they explode into dozen pieces. What Skies of Fury DX lacks in stuff to do, it almost makes up for it in playability.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.