Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ is a slightly peculiar release - it's an arrival with little to distinguish itself from the original aside from New Nintendo 3DS-only features, yet it's naturally being marketed for the original portable models too. The additions are minor yet fun, so it feels rather like an update of content that'd normally be a download, but is nevertheless sitting on retail shelves with a + in the title. Regardless of the mode of distribution, what we have is an enjoyable 3DS experience, with some neat and albeit limited amiibo features thrown in.
Ace Combat is a long-running franchise, and in the home console space has often been popular for its lengthy missions and relatively complex control system, but on the 3DS Bandai Namco has rather sensibly opted for an arcade-like experience. Missions are snappy affairs, typically over in under 10 minutes, and have simple objectives that ultimately necessitate destroying any enemy in sight. There's a focus on intensity and exciting scenarios, and importantly it's entirely possible to hop in for 10-15 minutes, rattle through a mission and then get on with your day.
In terms of the control system, the default basic controls are designed to accommodate this idea of quickfire dogfight encounters. Movement is simple with the Circle Pad, with boosters, breaks, guns and missiles all instinctively available, along with some use of the D-Pad to adjust the radar - rather handily on the touchscreen - or switch to limited-use Special weapons. For series veterans up for a challenge there's also a 'Classic' option, utilising the traditional style of left and right simply tilting the plane rather than immediately turning; it's more authentic and is worth exploring, but due to the arcade-like nature of the game we instinctively opted for the basic control scheme.
Though there are nods in the mechanics to authenticity - such as stalling the plane if flying too high, for example - it's in recklessly swooping through the skies, locking on and firing missiles that the most fun is to be had. Special manoeuvres mapped to the Y button play into this - when locked onto an enemy a yellow outline and Y prompt a cinematic move that then brings you in behind your foe. It becomes a vital tactic, while a variation is also used for dodging incoming missiles, with an arrow prompt requiring a rapid push of the Circle Pad + Y in the relevant direction. In the most intense battles it feels like the gaming equivalent of Top Gun - the movie, not the retro games - as you're forever flipping upside down, pulling off crazy moves and taking out those bogies (or whatever).
It's simple and silly, though in addition to the Classic controls there are also plane customisations that come into play to flesh it out. New craft unlock with progress, and in-game currency can then be used to purchase those planes, additional special weapons or to upgrade equipment in areas such as the Engine or Armor. This mix of unlocking and purchasing content plays well into the clear intention that you should replay stages multiple times.
We also have new Nintendo-themed planes in this edition, too. Various models can be unlocked by finding question mark blocks in clearly marked stages, and in addition to looking neat they're also very useful - and free - options. On the New Nintendo 3DS you can also scan amiibo, which are immediate shortcuts and - even for those planes you've found in game - serve up what seem to be figure-exclusive customisations. As these craft are so useful they'll be handy for those new to the game, while the Star Fox plane unlocked with the Fox amiibo is outrageously effective; it's arguably overpowered, but it's also quirky and fun. Is this amiibo content a game seller? Not really? Yet like much functionality with the toys it's harmless and enjoyable nonetheless.
Beyond unlockables, the core structure of this experience revolves around the Story Mode, with completed missions then available (at the same difficulty setting) in Free Play. Somewhat annoyingly you're tied to a difficulty level through an entire playthrough - about four hours - and only after completing it can you change the setting. There are occasional splits in which you choose one of two stages, too, which is something else to tempt you into multiple runs through the story; rather like the classic Star Fox 64 this is all about re-playing stages to look for 'Ace' pilots to gun down and more, though the campaign is of a length that you're unlikely to blast through it as frequently as the iconic Nintendo title.
Progressing and beating the Story unlocks Survival Missions - which are self-explanatory - and particularly tricky 'Extra Missions'. There's little innovation here beyond the basic concept of pretending you have "Maverick" as a nickname and shooting everything in sight - even escort missions basically mean "blow up everything in range", but that's part of the appeal. If you find it repetitive, however, the modes and difficulty settings will do little to shake that feeling; shifting between different planes may adjust your approach to a degree, but this is still a one-note experience. That's not a bad thing as long as expectations are reasonable.
As a whole, Ace Combat Assault Horizon+ comes together nicely, with some impressive production values helping it along - the planes you fly are licensed and relatively accurate recreations, for example. The storyline itself is fluff and only really explained if you prompt a cutscene by leaving the front screen idle, but the cheesy dialogue of your commander and occasional flight buddies, along with a sweeping - occasionally rock-infused - score all add to the dynamic. It's very decent visually, too, though betrays its early 3DS roots with some muddy textures - some ground-based enemies are blurry and barely visible, for example. The overall impression is positive, nevertheless, and we were certainly aware of the New Nintendo 3DS and its super stable 3D helping us enjoy that particular effect, despite some intense moments prompting us to move the handheld around.
Much of this applies to the original release, of course, and we'd suggest that those with the 2011 version need not double dip, as cosmetic amiibo functionality isn't worth a retail price. For those yet to experience this title, however, it's certainly worth considering.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ is a minor and slightly cheeky update - despite Nintendo planes and amiibo support it's certainly not worth a double dip for those with the original. It does serve as a handy reminder to those that ignored it first-time around, however, and it's an entertaining arcade experience that does its job as throwaway action fun. It's the sort of title that one can revisit every once in a while, just to fly through the skies and pretend it's the '80s and that Top Gun is cool. Often silly but always enjoyable, it's certainly worth some air miles for new recruits.