Several months ago I was intent on buying a military shooter that would let me blow up lots of "bad guys", and I saw Airforce Delta for Game Boy Color for only $10. I decided to get it. A rail shooter with excellent GBC graphics, AFD certainly looked promising. Unfortunately, its gameplay takes a nosedive and seems unworthy of having Konami's name on it.
If there's anything positive that I can say about Airforce Delta it's that it looks really good! The viewpoint is from behind your plane as the top and bottom of the screen scroll towards you, and a beautifully-drawn landscape sits on the horizon. The look is kind of similar to the SNES's HyperZone. In fact, Airforce Delta looks almost good enough to be a Super NES game. Objects, such as enemy planes, vehicles, missiles, and ground features scale larger as they move forward. The still pictures of the different airplanes look photo-realistic. The bosses, which are all large aircrafts, are colorfully well-rendered.
As eye-catching as they are, AFD's graphics have a downside, too. It's very difficult to tell the difference between a black missile and a power-up when they're far away. I've run into many a missile thinking it was a power-up and missed power-ups thinking they were missiles. (I don't know why the developers didn't just make all the missiles red so it would be easy to see the difference.) It's also hard to distinguish objects on the ground until they're very close, which means I've often wasted time and missiles aiming at unimportant targets.
Climax made a relatively successful attempt at creating electric guitar-style "rockin'" themes on the Gameboy Color. I especially like the music first heard in Mission 3. The title screen music sounds inappropriate for a military-based shooter, though (what's up with that jazzy swing?) The sound effects, consisting mostly of soft explosions, are okay, but when you fire your bullets, the percussion of the background music ceases to exist. Odd.
AFD's restricting control is part of what makes the game feel so non-intuitive. Pushing left and right makes your plane bank slowly left and right. Likewise, climbing and diving are just as slow. The molasses pace at which your plane meanders across the screen often makes it difficult to collect powerups. It can also be hard to move into a position to hit ground targets if they appear at the far left or right side of the screen.
But the worst part of AFD's control is that it requires very little skill from the player. When your plane is targeting an enemy, all you have to do is hold down the fire button and the plane automatically moves toward it and shoots at it. Boring. The alternative is to try to aim, yourself, which is nigh impossible. Missiles are the only object you have to worry about dodging, and that's usually accomplished by waiting until the missile gets close, then tilting in the opposite direction. There is never more than one missile on the screen at a time.
Airforce Delta takes place on the fictitious continent of Zabayral. A renegade army called the "People's Federation" is intent on conquering all of Zabayral, and they already have most of its provinces under siege. The last remaining free republic has called upon Airforce Delta, an elite group of mercenary fighter jet pilots, to defeat the People's Federation and liberate the continent. You are the newest recruit in AFD, and you are given a series of 11 missions to carry out.
Before each mission, you are given a briefing, but these sometimes have little to do with the stages, themselves. In one scenario, you are told that the enemy has amassed a fleet of battleships, and you have to destroy all of them. That makes sense enough. But in another, you are told the enemy has converted a medieval castle into a fortress, and you must destroy it. But, you never actually see, let alone destroy, a castle. No matter what the briefing tells you, your mission is to always destroy a certain number of targets, either on air, ground, or both. This makes the story feel irrelevant.
For some reason, the atmosphere doesn't feel as "serious" as it should, either. Maybe its the ludicrous names of the "countries", or the goofy intermisson music. Or it could be that your plane does a "victory dance" when you complete a mission. (I'm not kidding.)
Because it doesn't require much skill, Airforce Delta is a game that fails to generate excitement. There are four levels of difficulty, but there aren't any real differences in what is presented in the levels. Instead, enemy missiles do more damage and defeated planes are less likely to drop fuel canisters on harder difficulty settings. I beat the normal mode in an afternoon of playing, but as of writing this, I am currently stuck on Mission 8 of the hard mode because my plane keeps running out of fuel before I can complete the stage. I have never been a fan of the idea of running out of fuel in games, and if developers are going to include such a feature, then they need to provide a sane way of being able to refuel. Making players pray that enemies randomly drop fuel canisters is not a legitimate way to challenge them!
AFD has several boss fights, however, they are all huge planes that are beaten in the exact same manner. Because you can't refuel while taking on a boss, you have to be sure that you've got enough before destroying the last target in levels that end with boss fights. I have, on many occasions, played perfectly through a level, keeping a full "life" meter, and having all but one target left to destroy. However, I didn't have enough fuel left to take on the boss. So, I'd shoot down enemy plane after plane, hoping one would drop a fuel canister, to no avail. Then, through no fault of my own, I'd fail the mission because my plane would run out of fuel.
Airforce Delta's missions are all pretty much identical. You are given a set number of targets to destroy, and that's basically all you have to do. Even though AFD is a sim-shooter, it takes on a "puzzle" game-style philosophy: You have to wait for the correct targets to scroll onto the screen, in much the same way you wait for the right puzzle pieces in Tetris. This can easily get you screwed if you're running low on fuel or time and the proper target(s) don't appear. Since your plane moves left and right so slowly, it's not as though you could scour the battlefield, looking for targets, either. Some of the missions, especially those with upwards of 15-30 targets to destroy, are grueling, as they take an awfully long time to complete.
As you destroy things, you earn money for it, which can be used to buy better planes as they become available in later missions. You start with the F5E Tiger II, and can earn more powerful craft with varying speed, defense, firepower, and mobility, such as the Mirage 2000, F-18 Hornet, MIG-29, F-22 Raptor, and others. Unfortunately, most of these planes are practically useless. Some that have excellent defense and firepower, like the A10 Thunderbolt and Harrier, are much too slow to collect power-ups or complete missions without running out of fuel. The MIG-29 has excellent stats all around, but guzzles fuel like crazy! The Mirage and Hornet have terrible defense and firepower, but since they're the most fuel-efficient, I ended up using them for almost every mission until the Raptor became available. This only added to the tedium of the game, since enemies take many hits from their weak lasers to be defeated.
Because of how similar all the missions are, I don't feel I'm missing much by not being able to complete the hard mode. I already beat the normal mode, so I know what the final boss has in store for me. I've been playing AFD for about a week, and I no longer feel motivated to play a game that leaves you with so little control over what is going on.
Game Boy Color has gotten much criticism for not having enough good games, and Airforce Delta hasn't done anything to rectify that. Its graphics may be beautiful, but its repetitive and often unfair gameplay leave it permanently grounded.
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