Hands-on: Snoopy Flying Ace (XBLA)

Click to barnstorm into the gallery, and watch out for The Red Baron!

First of all, this is not an April Fool's joke. Remember how passionate the Joystiq team got about Torchlight last year? That's how I'm feeling about Snoopy Flying Ace. There are two reasons for this: 1) the gameplay is a direct descendant of Crimson Skies, right down to the customizable weapons on your planes, and 2) you get to shoot down Lucy Van Pelt. It's payback for all those years of her yanking the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second. Charles Schulz might be spinning in his grave over this game, but points one and two combine into joyous gameplay with the lovable Peanuts gang that you've grown up with.

Joystiq showed off the trailer for this almost two years ago, but now I've finally gotten my hands on the flight stick. Which also means I got to fly around as Snoopy in the seat of his faithful Sopwith Camel -- another childhood dream fulfilled. According to Clark Stacey from developer Smart Bomb Interactive, "It is, we maintain, the most detailed and realistic World War I simulation ever created; capturing every nuance of what it was like to be a dog flying a biplane over the skies of Europe in 1917. Consideration for the Nobel Prize for Literature has been bandied around the game with growing seriousness, and we are in talks concerning a possible film adaptation starring Uma Thurman as Snoopy." That's more of an adult dream, yet to be fulfilled.

Update! Ask and you shall receive, courtesy of Clark at Smart Bomb: "Of COURSE you can fly the doghouse. We have two kill streak bonuses in the game for multiplayer. Shoot down 4 planes in a row and you get the Woodstock bonus: Woodstock appears perched on the back of your plane with a pair of six-guns, shooting anyone behind you. Score 9 unanswered kills in a row, and your plane transforms into Snoopy's doghouse, with the most powerful machine gun in the game. It's pretty cool to see your avatar flying around on it."

Read on to find out why you're going to pick up this XBLA title later this year.

And I'm going to repeat that. This is an XBLA title coming out later this that features a single-player mode, co-op splitscreen gameplay and up to 16 players online in multiplayer via Xbox Live. And they're already talking about the DLC that will be coming out after launch that will offer new game modes, new levels, new planes, new weapons and new costumes from It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Historically, XBLA titles haven't cost more than $20, and this is going to be worth that and then some.

For a game that's based on a beloved comic strip, Snoopy Flying Ace features some tight flying controls that allow you to climb, dive, bank and turbo (or brake) at the touch of a button. There are Crimson Skies-inspired special maneuvers as well that let you reverse, barrel roll and evade as well. They play out the same each time when you hit the right thumbstick, but come in handy when there's an enemy on your tail or inbound missiles heading your way.

Speaking of which, there are missiles in this game. And bullets, rockets and noxious green fumes. Also: shotguns. Plus lots of bizarre weaponry that you can outfit your plane with. Every plane has the standard machine guns, but then you have two secondary weapons you can switch to on the fly that range from practical (rockets), to the incredibly impractical, yet very helpful (giant electrical spheres). Personally, I would have liked to see more whimsical weapons, which Smart Bomb says might be coming in DLC, but just imagine a Pig-Pen Smokescreen, a Lucy Shrieking Siren or a Blinding Blanket from Linus.

The single-player mode is fairly straightforward. You take Snoopy through missions against different devious foes, all based on existing Peanuts characters. This is where we ran into Lucy and her minions ... and turned her into Swiss cheese. NPCs will bail out after you shoot down their planes, but you can chase them down and hammer their parachutes as well, at which point they just vanish. That's as close to depicting death as the game actually comes. There are explosions and plane crashes galore, but you'll never see the bullet-riddled corpse of Pig-Pen on the battlefield. Probably for the best.

As good as the flying is, it gets even better when you're multiplayer-ing online. There are numerous characters to choose for your pilot, or you can use your XBL Avatar. The multiplayer modes include capture the flag, flying rugby and more, so there's a lot to choose from rather than your standard "shoot down the other guy, repeat ad infinitum" deathmatch. The plane controls are extremely easy to understand, and thankfully there are adjusted physics, meaning you won't graze a hill accidentally and explode.

Snoopy Flying Ace releases later this year, and the only thing that could make it better at this point would be if you could actually fly Snoopy's doghouse. Although I'm already wondering if that's not in the game. As you can see below, it already has Snoopy chugging root beer in it. Now I'm just going to have to wait on Peanuts: The Sandbox Game to come out so I can live with these characters 24/7.