Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + is one of those games that's a bit tricky to explain. Despite sharing the same name as its (rubbish) console big brother, Ace Combat Assault Horizon, this 3DS flight sim outing actually has nothing to do with it. Instead, this is a re-release-with-extra-bits of the last 3DS outing, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy. The + is there because there are a few extra, Nintendo-themed unlockable skins for the planes you fly - but beyond that, this is essentially the exact same game as Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy, with the same missions, same planes, and same great gameplay. And even though it's being pitched as a launch title for the "new" 3DS, this is fully compatible with the 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS.
Blurring the lines between a realistic simulator and an accessible arcade shooter, the Ace Combat games have always managed to get the balance just about right, providing pick-up-and-play appeal in spades, at the same time as making it feel like you're actually flying a plane. Letting you fly how you want to, you've got a choice between a range of external views, or a pilot's eye cockpit view for those who really want the Top Gun experience; there's two control settings to pick from, switching the analogue stick between turning (arcade) or just rolling your plane (more realistic); and there's a huge variety of real life planes to choose from (along with some fictional ones for added intrigue).
Strapping yourself into the cockpit as a pilot from the elite Scarface Squadron, you get flung into the middle of a war against a rebel uprising of sorts. To be honest, the story doesn't really matter all that much here (and nor is there really all that much to it, unlike earlier Ace Combat games) - instead, the real fun comes from the flying.
And despite some reservations, there's a decent amount of variety here. From escort missions (a VIP is being transported by plane across a mountain range, and of course finds himself under fire), to rescues (a group of trainees find themselves under attack - it's up to you to defend them), ground attack missions (following an oil pipeline to destroy the oil rigs), and dogfights with other ace squadrons - a kind of flight sim version of boss fights, only much, much less annoying - there's plenty to do. One mission even sees you flying down a canyon at night in search of a submarine - something that also makes good use of the game's very impressive 3D effects.
As a very modern type of combat game, your plane comes equipped with all the latest bells and whistles, so dogfighting is a less about giving jerries a good thrashing, and more about taking pot shots with rockets from long range. Enemies are picked out on the screen and highlighted with a green square, with a handy arrow popping up if your foes are hiding just out of your field of view. Jostling for position in the sky in a high speed dogfight, all you have to do is get behind your enemy, and keep them in the centre of the screen for a few seconds so your missile can get a lock. When the square surround turns red, all you have to do is mash the button to send a firey present up your enemy's backside. If you prefer the up close and personal approach, you also have a cannon you can tear chunks out of your foes with - and a variety of special weapons to boot.
Each plane in game comes equipped, and is specialised for a certain type of mission. Big, heavily armed, heavily armoured, slow planes like the A-10 Warthog may not be great in a dogfight, but they're perfect for a ground attack mission, where lining up your targets is more important than how tight you can turn. Similarly, a nimble fighter like the F-35 may be able to run rings around your opponents and break the sound barrier, but it can't take too much of a beating before it's blown out of the sky. Each plane also comes with a range of special weapons you can choose to equip for each mission - from anti-air rockets that target several planes at once, to guided bombs to blow up anyone unfortunate on the ground - so you can choose the right load out for the mission at hand.
Once you're in the air of course, it's not just you who's firing missiles all over the place - your enemies will be too. Thankfully, rather than just becoming instant rocket fodder as soon as anyone gets behind you, you have a few tricks up your sleeve. While it's nothing as authentic as having to drop chaff or flares at the right time to throw off/blow up the missile, as soon as an enemy fires a rocket at you, you'll get a giant red square and a message warning you of the incoming danger. When it gets a bit closer, yellow triangles will appear on one side of the screen - and all you have to do is press Y and move the circle pad in that direction to dodge. Simple!
In terms of brand new features, there's really very little to report on here. In fact, the only real change is that now you can unlock special, Nintendo themed skins for certain planes. Whilst first thought to be amiibo exclusive, you can actually unlock a few Nintendo skins for yourself in game by shooting the special "?" blocks that appear in certain levels. By and large, though, the vast majority of the Nintendo exclusive skins are locked off unless you scan in one of the compatible amiibo. Which means Nintendo's figure range still doesn't serve an actual purpose...
So, in all, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + is a tricky one. If you've already got the 3DS game, then there's literally no point buying this one, as there's no differences. If you bought the 360/PS3 version, and didn't like it (i.e. if you have taste), then this is well worth a look. For anyone else, if you fancy the fun of being top gun without the hassle of learning how to get a plane off the ground; if you like the sound of authenticity but get scared off by 300 page manuals; and if you fancy a dogfight over the snow kissed peaks of a mountain range, or through a narrow valley below, all on the comfort of your own handheld console, then Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + could be the game you've been waiting for. As a game that's so much better than the home console version, here's hoping we get a few more handheld Ace Combat games...
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS