It’s amazing that after over fifteen years of the PS2 being on the market, and well over thirteen of me being a PS2 owner, that the system still manages to surprise me with incredible games. I’ve either played or owned at this point hundreds of games for Sony’s sophomore console, and yet in 2015 I still manage to find games that make me remember exactly how robust the PS2’s software library is and why it will always be one of, if not my personal favourite console of all time. Back in October 2006 as the Xbox 360 was entering its second year of life and the gaming world at large gobbled up every piece of information about the yet to be released PS3 and Nintendo’s oddly named console the Wii, Bandai Namco released a game that probably wouldn’t make you turn your head twice at it in a store, yet is a piece of software that could teach Nintendo a thing or two about how to make a Star Fox game. The game I’m speaking of is the one in the title of the article, Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron, a title that many probably only associate with a Christmas song that plays on the radio this time of year but is secretly one of the most fun flying games to grace the PS2.
Like the recently released Snoopy’s Grand Adventure, the story of Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron is a product of Snoopy’s imagination. Perched atop his dog house, Snoopy let’s his imagination take over as he dreams of himself and the rest of the Peanuts gang as a part of the military tasked with saving Charlie Brown from the titular Red Baron while at the same time stopping him from winning the first World War. The story is easily the weakest part of the game, and not because its technically a figment of Snoopy’s imagination, but because it’s clearly directed at younger players. The cut-scenes, while fairly well done and featuring some nice 3-D representations of purely 2-D characters, are voiced by some very cute I’m sure but amateur to say the least child actors that don’t really bring you into “the story”. Thankfully the exposition pieces don’t ever play out too long, and once they’re over you get to play the game which is more than worth suffering through a few measly cinemas.
Though starring a cartoon dog taken from a comic strip and featuring a supporting case of children, Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron is a game that wouldn’t be out-of-place next to game’s like Crimson Skies on the original Xbox or the above mentioned Star Fox franchise. This is a flight combat game that controls just as arcade-y and realistic as it needs to, making it great introduction to a younger audience of this type of game, yet still managing to be fun for older fans as well. In Snoopy’s plane, an actual plane not his doghouse, you can fire machine guns, a myriad of secondary weapons, and perform tricks like barrel rolls and loop-de-loops, all without having to wrestle with the controls at all.
You start out in a baseball field where you can get used to the controls in a harmless environment or you can complete advanced tutorials to earn currency for upgrades that you can buy in a shop in this area as well. Like Diddy Kong Racing or Super Mario 64, this staging area serves as a hub to your missions with billboards placed around the field acting as worlds you can fly into to complete missions. Games such as this are made on their mission variety, because while flying around and dog-fighting (literally in this game’s case) is fun, it can become boring if that’s the sole activity you’re dong. Thankfully this game manages to always keep itself fresh throughout the twenty-two mission campaign. Starting out you’ll do traditional things like shoot down X many targets that are filling the radar, then tensely protecting convoy’s and teammates both in the air and in the ground from enemy planes and crazy machines before it somehow turns into a stealth flying game that somehow manages to completely make sense and never become frustrating.
Like the N64 classics of old, every stage tasks you with seeking out a certain number of balloons and letters. Collecting enough balloons adds additional secondary weapons for purchase while letters spell out the name of a character in each main world that will then open them up for purchase in the game’s multiplayer mode. As a huge fan of Diddy Kong Racing and it’s odd hybrid of driving mixed with a collect-a-thon platformer, I was pleasantly surprised to find a similar focus show up in this game. It’s like Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron is a pseudo-sequel of sorts that Diddy Kong Raving never unfortunately received.
Each mission also has a series of sub-objectives that show up as they progress which provide a lot of challenge as they often take your attention away from where it should be. You don’t need to shoot down a certain colour plane in order to simply complete a level, but you’ll find yourself wanting to venture off the beaten path to net some extra cash to upgrade your plane. Between missions you can upgrade your machine guns, health, and your stunt meter that allows you to turbo boost longer or perform more stunts. You can also purchase numerous additional secondary weapons like a gun that fires a shot-gun blast of lightning, a flame boomerang, or a burst of fireworks. These weapons not only allow you to take down planes and enemy faster, but also open up some replay incentive as well. If you see an inactive generator in a level for example, you can return to power it up with a huge cash reward once you get the lightning gun.
My only problem with this is that at certain points that game will halt your progress until you get a specific gun that you may only use once. The first instance of this is when you have to buy the flame boomerang in order to burn some hay bails or else you can’t go any further. I only used this weapon in this one instance and never again, and this happened with some other weapons as well. It’s a minor complaint as I hated wasting hard-earned currency on tools I only used once, but I did appreciate that by doing this the game teaches you that you can then venture back into other missions and seek out things like hay bails or generators for profit.
The six worlds that make up Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron all culminate with a boss fight and all of them are a blast not only to see, but to fight. The bosses are all unique, crazy mechanical monstrosities that feel like the final enemies at the end of the courses in Star Fox 64. You’ll hunt down weak points while quickly having to roll out-of-the-way of debris flying at you or laser guns that are quickly moving around the screen. Most of the fights have you in complete control of your plane, however a few change-up the pace a little and have you play as Woodstock who’s being dragged along in a glider leaving you responsible only for shooting. Even with the lack of movement, these fights are equally as fun to play, however if you’re like me and play flying games inverted but your shooters non, the switch can be jarring but you quickly get your bearings.
For being a game that came out over nine years ago running on hardware over one-and-a-half decade old, it’s astounding just exactly how good this game manages to look. I played on a HDTV via PS2 component cables and it didn’t look out-of-place in the slightest, and dare I say, I’ve played uglier looking games on both the PS3 and Xbox 360. That’s more than likely because of the incredible art design and use of bright, vivid colours. Like my favourite comic book games, whether based on a book or strip, Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron has a cel-shaded look that makes it a joy to the eyes. I don’t know what people have against colour nowadays, but I wish more games could look as vibrant as this one does. Helping matters is that each of the worlds has a unique visual style, from a lush, green island, to a snowy mountain and a forest with tall trees to name a few. Like the missions and weapons, the degree of variety in the environments makes it so nothing ever gets old or feels stale.
Outside of the story design and minor gripe with the secondary weapons being mandatory, if I had any other issue with Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron it’s that the game is a little on the short side. This is the first time I’ve ever played this game and even with collecting all balloons and letters as well as completing most of the secondary stage objectives, I manage to complete this game in a few sittings with not that much problem. That being said, this game is skewed younger, though not as insultingly so as Snoopy’s Grand Adventure, and even games like Star Fox 64 are not much longer if you’re only doing things like completing the courses and collecting medals.
I’m sure once upon a time I was looking through games on a store shelf and saw a Peanuts flying game and immediately dismissed it as shovelware meant purely for kids, and that may be the case for a lot of other people as well. Don’t let the license or childish story fool you though. If you’re into arcade flying games and long for the days when Fox McCloud stuck to the skies, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy of Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron. From its gorgeous graphics, tight controls, beautiful vistas and mission variety, there’s hardly anything to not like about this game. This is a PS2 classic that’s not to be missed.