Growing up I loved playing flight sims; Cutting my combat pilot teeth on Top Gun for the NES (which isn’t really much of a flight sim) before moving on to the likes of Falcon from Spectrum HoloByte and ATF Gold from Jane’s Combat Simulations (before EA shut that studio down). Eventually, I came across the Ace Combat series on the PlayStation 2 and found a new love in the arcade combat sim genre.
After playing through all the arcade combat flight sims I could on the PlayStation 2, 3 and XBox 360, I felt it was time for a break, until seeing the Ace Combat 7 trailer at E3 2016 and I knew I wanted more – but with the game not releasing for some time, I needed to find my fix somewhere else.
This is where Vertical Strike Endless Challenge comes in.
Without seeing the title, you’d think this was the wave challenge mode found in many Ace Combat games, and it feels like it’d be right at home there. Looking a bit deeper you’ll find that this is its own game. Developed by Project ICKX and released on Steam in April of 2017, this very low-budget game landed on the Switch’s eShop this past June for $6.29CAD.
When you launch the game, you’ll notice that there are only two play modes to pick from: Air-to-Air and Air-to-Sea. Air-to-Air mode, as it sounds, is your typical dogfight where you engage other aircraft, whereas Air-to-Sea mode pits you against various enemy ships with the occasional aircraft.
After selecting your play mode, you’re brought to the aircraft selection screen. These aircraft will look oddly familiar if you know anything about combat aircraft. The primary aircraft, SAF-22 “Slayer”, is modeled after the F-22 except for having forward canards attached to the intakes. The alternate aircraft is the XSF-3A which looks very similar except there are no canards and it has round exhaust nozzles.
You’re able to pick four different weapons consisting of a variety of long-range and short-range missiles in both anti-air and anti-ship flavours as well as guided and unguided bombs along with gunpods. Along the side, you’ll see how many of each armament you have.
Once you have your aircraft and weapons selected and start the sortie, you’re thrown immediately in to combat, and this is where the fun begins. How you play is totally up to you; personally I like the up close and personal – turn and burn – gameplay, so I’ll usually let the enemy aircraft get close and go in with guns blazing, or strike low and fast on enemy ships. As you get closer to the ground, you get a good sense of speed, and if you’re not careful you can easily crash and burn. This adds an extra level of fun as you can become grossly outnumbered and, if you’re not careful, can quickly find someone on your six, ready to fire.
If you’ve ever played an Ace Combat game, the UI will look comfortably familiar. A basic radar appears in the lower-left corner, which you can zoom in and out and the weapons loadout is in the lower right. In the centre, you have your speed and altitude along with the pitch ladder. There are two views, being 3rd person and “cockpit”. I put cockpit in quotes as it’s more like you’ve got a camera on the tip of the aircraft’s nose and can see the hud out front.
As you progress through each wave, the enemies will become more difficult and numerous. You have a wingman to help you out, however he’s not as useful as you’d hope. He does help occasionally in taking out enemy aircraft and ships, although you’ll see him flying around randomly more often than not. Couch co-op play for the wingman would have been nice, but seeing as this is a budget game it’s not surprising this feature is missing.
Every five waves, you’ll go up against a “boss” enemy. These are usually faster and stronger than regular enemies and it’ll take all of your skill to take them out. If you are successful, your weapons and health will be replenished. I found myself using more of my weapons when attacking ships than I did aircraft, so this boss was a welcome sight during air-to-sea missions. Your flares (really your only defense aside from maneuvering away from enemies and missiles) are controlled automatically and are unlimited, unlike your weapons. The downside for flares is a short time period when the flairs need to recharge.
Visually, this game looks great on the Nintendo Switch, especially for the cost. Being a budget game on the Switch, you can’t expect 4K HDR visuals like on the Xbox One X or PS4 and that’s fine. Both the air-to-air and air-to-sea combat are set on clear, sunny days with the air-to-air taking place over a desert mountain range and air-to-sea on the open ocean. You won’t find much in the way of clouds or changing environments though.
The aircraft are well detailed with moving control surfaces, exhaust nozzles and afterburners when you’re full throttle. The SAF-22 has an animated weapons bay which opens when you release various weapons and the missiles even have a smoke trail which is a nice detail.
While playing, I didn’t notice any slowdowns or stutters, even in the more intensive air-to-sea battles where there are a lot more enemies and weapons fire than in the air-to-air battles.
The music is your typical techno/eurobeat style that’s intended to keep you pumped during combat. It can get a bit repetitive at times but as you’re more focused on the combat than the soundtrack, it’ll eventually fall to the background.
Overall, if you’re looking for a quick arcade combat flight sim, you won’t be disappointed by Vertical Strike Endless Challenge. As long as you don’t go in expecting a deep, extensive AAA game and don’t mind some repetitive gameplay, I think you’ll enjoy it.
- Quick and easy gameplay with a shallow learning curve
- Nice visuals – Looks great for a budget game
- Gameplay can get a bit repetitive
- No couch co-op – You have to rely on an AI Wingman
- Music gets repetitive