The first thing you need to know about Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy is that after you clear a mission, dive-bombing into the mountains is a bad idea. Unlike most games, that Mission Cleared screen does not grant godlike immunity, and we had to restart more missions than we’d like to admit because we flew our F-16 into the ocean for fun.
The second thing you need to know is that AHL is not as arcadey as its console version. There is no regenerating plane-health here (or anywhere in the real world, for that matter), no helicopter bombing missions, and no on-rails dogfights. That’s probably where the “Legacy” in the name comes from – this is a legacy Ace Combat game, and for the most part we’re just fine with that. It does have single button evasive maneuvers, and while it might seem cheap to those that prefer their “flight sims” with a side of “boring-ass controls,” the evasive maneuvers have to be hit at precisely the right time, and they add a quick pace to dogfight after dogfight against faceless foes.
Unlike its console counterpart, AHL doesn’t have any real people or places in it. Enemies are brusque villains simply labeled as “Rebels” who like saying mean things about you while they fly into your missiles. But when you attack them you have to hear them call out for help, and say things like “I’ll miss Rodriguez” regarding that hunk of burning metal. This makes it hard to be particularly patriotic when you’re shooting down large, defenseless ships, and in one mission, care packages from the sky.
There are plenty of semi-varied levels for you to test your skills, which take place in a variety of different locales. From up high everything looks gorgeous and the 3D is used for a minimalistic depth effect. Each level comes touting its own legitimately awesome song, which ranges from hip-hop to heavy-metal to swirling orchestras. After you wrap up a mission you’ll be graded on your performance. As you progress through the bite-sized levels, you’ll unlock dozens of new parts, new planes, and new weapons, which will make getting better grades easy should you choose to go back.
The game isn’t too difficult, and most missions you can finish on your first try without hiring an AI companion as support. But every once in a while you’ll be asked to protect something that clearly has brain damage or a death wish. After jamming away at these missions again and again, your fingers will feel about ready to break off. The 3DS’s circle pad and tiny buttons have always caused a bit of finger fatigue, but something about the way you use them in AHL takes this fatigue to a new level – our fingers haven’t hurt this bad since ‘Nam.
Unfortunately, and bafflingly, there is no multiplayer in AHL. It’s a huge shame, as the quick-paced, finger-breaking dogfights would have lent themselves well to co-op. Even still, there are plenty of unlockables and challenges to keep gamers in the cockpit. If you’re a fan of any Ace Combat entries, you’ll find something to love on these horizons.