Review: Pearl Harbor Trilogy - 1941: Red Sun Rising (WiiWare)

The dawn of a promising new WiiWare franchise

Pearl Harbor Trilogy - 1941: Red Sun Rising, one of the most anticipated WiiWare games of the year, wowed observers with screenshots that seemed far too impressive to be possible in a downloadable Wii title. In a field mostly populated by mini-game collections with simplistic graphics, Pearl Harbor Trilogy may just prove once and for all that WiiWare can indeed match the production values of retail releases. But might all this hype lull us into a dangerously false sense of security?

Red Sun Rising is the first in the three-part Pearl Harbor series from Legendo, makers of the PC game Attack on Pearl Harbor. The original was a fun arcade-style air combat game set in the Pacific during World War II, feeling authentic without taking itself as seriously as more traditional simulation-style PC games. With minimal controls clearly designed for a game pad rather than a keyboard and simplified ammunition accounting (there isn’t any, it’s all unlimited), the game seemed destined for a console re-release.

This is exactly what Pearl Harbor Trilogy is – a near exact port of that spectacular PC game. It brings the missions, opening cutscenes, graphics and pretty much everything else from the original and adds motion controls to the mix. The word “port” is often used negatively in gaming, but in this instance, we think it should be viewed as a wholly positive transition.

First of all, the sheer scope of the game is impressive compared to what is normally seen in WiiWare games. Existing in a fully-realised 3D game engine, you fly around large maps flanked by perhaps a dozen allied pilots, depending on the mission, and fight a similar number of opponents and sometimes whole fleets of Aircraft Carrier groups. The very first mission that you play is the battle for Pearl Harbor, in which you’ll go up against a huge number of planes, warships and bullet tracers all on screen at once, and the Wii is perfectly capable of displaying it all.

On the other hand, being a port is a mixed blessing in some ways. Part of the reason that the Wii can handle all of this simultaneously onscreen is that the resolution has been cranked down from the usual 480p of which the Wii is capable. The graphics are still impressive by Wii standards, but it’s worth noting that this is nevertheless a downgrade.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect is not the graphics, however, but rather the quality of the enemy A.I. which is most surprising. Far from displaying the usual mistakes, such as flying aimlessly or in a straight line, these opponents know how to avoid getting under the sights of your guns and are ridiculously good at positioning themselves aft of your plane if you give them any opportunity.

Again, this is a mixed blessing: developing a truly challenging A.I. is a great accomplishment and adds to the replay value of the game by increasing the challenge, but the PC version featured various options for different skill levels. Most notable was the inclusion of a ‘Casual’ level, featuring weaker A.I. and allowing the player to advance to the next level at the conclusion of each mission, regardless of whether it was won or lost. A setting like this is great for players learning the game and for those who just want to shoot things without having to work too hard, and taking away that option leaves a relatively hardcore game that may leave some novice players feeling frustrated.

Along with the lack of skill choices, there is a similar problem with an uneven difficulty curve. We found the hardest level of the game to be the first, one of the largest battles, into which you are dropped with very little instruction and no opportunity to practice before getting shot at. If you can get through that, the rest of the game becomes seemingly easier mission-by-mission until the last, which feels almost anti-climactic.

It’s important to note that the original game featured more than one campaign per side (Japanese or American), but Legendo is apparently breaking these up into separate, budget-sized WiiWare releases. As a result, this first game features the first American and Japanese campaigns with eight missions apiece. Do not go into this expecting the final battle to lead to “THE END” as originally it was only supposed to be the end of the beginning.

The missions offer you a choice of different planes in some cases, which will result in different objectives and therefore a completely separate experience. As a result, the game has plenty of replay value, as players will no doubt want to make it through both campaigns more than once just to see the result of making different selections. Additionally, at the end of your first play-through you are given yet another plane to use, though only in the ‘Dogfight’ gametype.

Separate from the campaign is the option for quick pick up and play games called ‘Dogfight Mode’: these are single player excursions, the goal of which can be to either reach a certain number of kills or to survive for a certain length of time. These modes are considerably harder than the main game as you will find yourself flying alone and greatly outnumbered, so these are best saved for further extending the life of the game after you have completed the campaign. The one exception to this is the ‘free flight’ option that literally lets you soar unopposed around a map of your choosing. This may sound pointless, but it is actually the only real way to practise flying and to get an understanding of how your plane handles, so this mode is recommended when playing the game for the first time.

For some people, the controls will take a little getting used to. Legendo was kind enough to give you three controller options and they are all quite different, so there is something there for everybody. One uses the Wii Remote only, another utilises the Wii Remote with the Nunchuk, and the third takes advantage of the Classic Controller.

We found that the first of these was the simplest and most functional of all the choices: handling was smooth and responsive, as you hold the Wii Remote horizontally and use it to steer. By using motion controls to steer, players’ thumbs are left free to operate the other functions and performing tricks such as looking behind you in a dogfight are easily accomplished with the press of a button.

Similarly, the Classic Controller also worked well, utilising the left thumbstick for steering, though this means your right thumb must shoot, throttle forwards and backwards on the speed, and check your different viewing options such as looking behind you. We found this to be too much like playing thumb-twister and, worse, it meant that while firing your guns you couldn’t adjust your speed.

In contrast, the Nunchuk option was the most difficult option. With this option, players hold the Nunchuk almost like a flight stick and move it around to steer. It seemed to be fluid and responsive, which is surprising as it uses a more simplistic motion sensor. This choice definitely takes a lot more getting used to than the other two, but it has its merits, and is something else to play around with once you’ve beaten the game.

One thing missing for those looking for longevity in a game is a local or online multiplayer option: these were present in the PC version, but did not make it into the Wii release. The game still features plenty of single player content for the amount of points it costs, but air combat and multiplayer are an obvious pairing and thus is missed in this release.

Conclusion

Although we singled out some areas for needed improvement, we say this only with the hopes of receiving an even better product when the second game in the trilogy is released. Although the PC release is still probably the better choice if that option is available to you, among WiiWare games Red Sun Rising stands out as a truly impressive game that not only looks like a retail game on a WiiWare budget, but is every bit as fun to play. Its primary flaw is its uneven difficulty curve, but the game is still accessible to those with patience. For those who survive it, Pearl Harbor Trilogy: Red Sun Rising offers a thrilling experience that will encourage returning to replay it again and again until the next game in the trilogy is released.

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