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Snoopy vs. the Red Baron
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: Smartbomb Interactive
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 6 (Ad Hoc)
Genre: Flight/ Arcade/ Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Aside from the Great Pumpkin and the football gag, one of the most memorable scenes from the Peanuts comic strip has been Snoopy’s countless dogfights against the dreaded Red Baron. Snoopy vs. The Red Baron translates these battles into a light-hearted arcade flyer that should appeal to any Peanuts fan.

Presentation is Snoopy vs. The Red Baron’s strongest aspect. Gameplay isn’t a slouch, but the charm of the visuals should be able to warm over even the most hardened of fans. Everything has a crude, simple look that really matches the style of the Peanuts comic strip and cartoons. It is a little awkward seeing these characters finally rendered in 3D, but you’ll get over it quick. There is usually a lot happening on screen and the framerate manages to stay constant with little slowdown.

Characters aren’t voiced by the kids who play their roles in the most recent Peanuts animated specials, but sound close enough that you wouldn’t notice unless you took the time to look. This turns out to be a good thing since some of the new voices (like Sally) are grating. The only annoying voice is Marcie, but thankfully she doesn’t talk that much.

While flying missions, the game’s soundtrack is filled with fun, wartime themes. Between missions, you are treated to simple piano music that sounds spot on with Vincent Guaraldi’s famous tracks from the cartoons.


Gameplay:
Snoopy vs. The Red Baron opens with Snoopy asleep on his doghouse, dreaming of once again trading rounds with the Red Baron. Playing as Snoopy, you travel through 22 missions as you try to liberate Europe from the clutches of the Red Baron. All of the missions take place in Snoopy’s imagination, so don’t expect a true-to-life WWI flying sim or hard-nosed mission objectives. Things are kept light for the game’s younger target audience while providing gameplay that is engaging enough for older players who might want to take Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel for a spin.

Even with the WWI theme, all of the notable Peanuts characters play their part in the war effort. Playing to her bossy nature, Lucy is your commander, while Linus is the Intelligence Officer. Other characters like Rerun and Peppermint Patty show up as Snoopy’s wingmen in some missions. Even Charlie Brown shows up, though in the unflattering role as janitor and sometimes damsel in distress.

As far as flight games go, Snoopy vs. The Red Baron doesn't take too many risks. The focus is on the basics, which the game does an excellent job with. Missions are set in large, free-roaming areas with changing mission goals. You begin each mission with a goal, like retrieving plans, but soon find yourself defending based from surprise attacks or chasing down the Red Baron’s henchmen. Although the context is different, most missions boil down to simply shooting down planes and attacking whatever ground targets you come across. It isn’t the most varied of experiences, but it is still fun and the pacing is tuned just right. Mission goals are long enough to add length, but end before they become too tedious. Each mission also includes a set of secondary objectives, such as collecting balloons or destroying certain vehicles.

The single-player campaign isn’t that long, but is still a satisfying experience. Multiplayer options are also available, which add some length. Up to six players can compete in multiplayer matches, which include games like Capture the Flag and Tag.


Difficulty:
Snoopy vs. The Red Baron isn’t too challenging for experienced players, but it isn’t the pushover you would expect from a kid-friendly game. The Sopwith Camel can take quite a bit of punishment before going down and most enemies drop health, so you’ll never find yourself scrounging around for health while enemies try to tick off that last bit of health. Enemies aren’t overly aggressive, but can still put up a fight.

Mission goals are evenly spaced, though you still need to keep tabs on what is going on. Enemies tend to be slightly more aggressive when going after other targets, making Escort missions some of the more difficult in the game. Allied targets can take just as much punishment as Snoopy, but if you can’t keep enemies off them, they will go down quick.


Game Mechanics:
Piloting the Sopwith Camel is easy. Either the D-pad or analog nub can be used, so if you have a preference the option is open. Despite my aversion to the analog nub, I found myself using that option more since it allowed for range of movement during dogfights. Snoopy can pull off a few aerial maneuvers, though most of your time is spent hitting the brakes as you try to get enemy planes off your back. Early on, planes keep their distance, but in later missions they have a habit of sitting right on top of you which makes it hard to draw a bead on them.

Snoopy’s plane is outfitted with machine guns, which is your primary weapon throughout the campaign. Ammo is unlimited and they can be upgraded between missions at Pigpen’s mechanics shop. Other weapons can also be purchased at the shop, including bottle rockets, balloon bombs, a potato gun and my personal favorite, Woodstock-guided missiles. I did, however, find the lack of Pigpen-powered smokescreen disappointing.

Weapons are a one-time purchase, but are pretty expensive – especially when you factor in the cost of upgrades. Money is collected during missions, though you really don’t come away from missions with much money. You usually have enough to buy an upgrade or weapon after a mission or two, though you’ll have to play through levels multiple times in order to unlock everything. It isn’t too much of a hassle, but it does introduce a bit of a “grinding” aspect that drags down the fun.

Once unlocked, you can equip weapons between missions by flying over them. You are limited to one secondary weapon per mission. You can usually go into any mission with whatever weapon you like, though some are better suited for particular goals. Some missions will require the use of a particular weapon. For example, early on in the second chapter, you need to use the flame boomerang in order to take out the Red Baron’s forest base. You can play through the mission without the boomerang, but it makes the mission harder to accomplish.

Snoppy vs. The Red Baron stands as one of the best uses of a license in recent memory. It manages to stick to the source material while taking a small risk genre-wise. Besides that, it is just an all-around fun game.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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