Take one glance at the Nintendo Switch eShop and you’ll see it awash with mobile ports. Some of these titles - such as the recently reviewed Warp Shift from Fishlabs - work well whether they’re on a smartphone screen or a handheld console, but then there are some that are so well suited to Switch it’s a wonder they were ever conceived with pure touchscreen controls in mind.
Such is the thought that comes to mind when playing Seed Interactive’s Skies Of Fury DX. Known as Ace Academy: Skies Of Fury on iOS and Android, this WW1-set arcade dogfighter feels refreshed and revitalised on Nintendo Switch. Free of all the negative tropes associated with mobile gaming, you get a simple yet rewarding title that can finally swoop, shoot and loop-the-loop to its full potential.
Liberated from the awkward touchscreen and tilt-based control schemes of its previous platform, Skies Of Fury DX suits the dual analog sticks of Switch to a tee. With the throttle/yaw controlled with the left stick and pitch/roll controlled with the right, you can now chase down fellow biplanes and blow them out of the sky with practiced accuracy, rather than simply relying on good fortune to bring you victory. With a slight aim assist in place, you never feel like you’re wrestling with a flying tank.
Its comic book-style look also survives the flight from phone to Switch, and it’s just as eye-grabbingly attractive as it was before. The cel-shaded design makes it reminiscent of classic PS2 shooter XIII or racing brawler Cel Damage, an aesthetic that makes every plane stand out nice and clear against the cartoon landscape below and the impressive lighting model that shines during every battle or assault course. There are even some comic book style story scenes you can unlock after clearing each chapter’s sub-campaign.
Missions in the single-player campaign mode are split into three types - a deathmatch-style showdown where you’ll need to shoot down all the planes in the enemy’s squadron, an escort setup where you’ll need to protect a set of allies as they follow a flight path, and a time trial-esque assault course where passing through coloured rings and shooting targets keeps the clock ticking. The game effectively repeats these three setups throughout its 100 missions, splitting them between the use of German and British aircraft.
Despite this lack of creativity when it comes to mission structure, there’s no denying just how inherently rewarding its core gameplay truly is. You can perform manoeuvres with the D-pad, enabling you to swoop away from enemy fire, while a special ability (which you can charge up by shooting down enemy planes) gives you a temporary boost of extra firepower and reduced damage. There’s a dynamic tactical feel to these battles, too, thanks to the presence of cloud. Yes, these humble blobs of aerial moisture serve as a form of cover, enabling you to both evade enemy planes and ambush them. They also reduce your speed drastically, providing a risk/reward balance that will force you to use them carefully.
Frustratingly, there aren’t any on-screen markers to identify which direction enemy planes are flying in when they’ve moved out of view. To get around this, developer Seed Interactive has included a camera targeting system (activated by pressing ‘L’+’R’) that slows time and automatically pulls you around to face the nearest enemy. It’s not the most intuitive system - especially when you’re fighting through the tougher opponents of its latter five chapters - but the smoothness of its controls and the use of cloud cover helps negate the issue somewhat.
With its free-to-play model removed, Skies Of Fury DX's in-game loot boxes are now unlocked by levelling up. These crates contain either paint jobs for any of the game’s German and British models or unique crosshair designs. Frustratingly, a majority of the skins we unlocked during our play-through are for planes unlocked at the highest ranks, but considering just how inventive the designs are, they’re a feature that consistently tempts you to keep playing (and beat previous high scores) without the looming and unclean shadow of microtransactions.
New planes are unlocked as you reach certain rank milestones, but you won’t be left wanting in terms of improved stats since levelling up also brings skill points that can be spent in a classic skill tree. From decreasing reload speeds to increased damage when your health is low, these buffs are persistent across either campaign and will make all the difference when the difficulty ramps up in final two to three chapters.
There’s also support for local multiplayer (with up to three of other players via split-screen), with support for split Joy-Cons and Pro Controller combinations as standard. It’s definitely something you’ll want to play in TV mode, but its slick controls and moreish gameplay make for an addictive couch play combo. There’s also a Survival mode - which can be played in single-player with a bot or in four-player co-op - with upgrades and buffs unlocked as you shoot down planes and clear increasingly tougher waves of enemies.
It’s an addictive premise, but you can’t help wishing the developer had included an online multiplayer option as well. Considering how enjoyable Skies Of Fury DX’s core gameplay is, and just how great online death matches can be on Nintendo Switch (hello, DOOM), its omission reminds you this really is a mobile port rather than an arcade dogfighter made with a console in mind.
Despite that glaring lack of online multiplayer - and a slightly awkward off-screen targeting system - Skies Of Fury DX brings a new slice of fun, fast and furious dogfighting to Nintendo Switch. Whether you’re playing on your own through its 100 campaign missions or shooting your friend’s biplane to smithereens in local multiplayer, it’s one of the best new additions to Switch’s digital library and further proof - if any were needed - that Nintendo’s handheld is the best portable platform there is.