In this review we are focusing on SIMPLE 2000 Series Vol. 117 THE零戦 (THE Zero Fighter). The SIMPLE Series was created by D3 Publisher starting in 1998. The focus of the series is to create budget-priced video games which feature various game developers. With a wide variety of developers involved, the genres of games that were and continue to be produced vary over a wide genre. Racing, shmup, mahjong, dating sims, light gun shooters, sports, board games, flight games and so many more.
Released on May 10th, 2007 for the PlayStation 2, THE Zero Fighter was developed by Mobile & Game Studio and Bit-Town. Of the two, Bit Town was primarily a developer of flight-based games. Their works include the Sidewinder series (known as Lethal Skies and Raging Skies outside of Japan) and Astro Trooper Vanark. This developer also worked with Asmik Ace Entertainment and Aqua System who published other flight games on the Xbox Original, Super Nintendo, Sega Mega and PlayStation 2. Some of the game mechanics are designed to be improvements over a previous title, also a part of SIMPLE Series 2000.
The soundtrack and sound effects are not worth focusing on much due to their quality and limited variety. Visually this game is about as presentable as could be expected of a title on the PlayStation 2. Skipping all of this we'll focus on other parts of this release.
Mission and Story
This game features a 10 mission long, single player campaign that is set in World War II. The missions are based on well-known battlefields of the Pacific Theater of World War II. Rabul-Port Moresby, the Solomon Islands, Pearl Harbor, Santa Cruz and more. Some battles are easier to recognize than others. While one should not expect to see the majority of the US Navy Pacific Fleet rendered on the PlayStation 2 during the Pearl Harbor Attack mission, the representation of many warships and general layout of the map is adequate enough to make the scene of the battle identifiable.
Each mission comes with a few optional settings before aircraft selection and beginning the mission. These options are the ability to change the time of day and weather, along with choosing mission difficulty. There are no pre-mission briefings to explain the situation or combat objective, but a sentence quickly sums up the type of mission you are about to embark upon. The objectives are very straightforward with few surprises. There are no mid-mission updates, surprise waves of enemies or unusual objective types. After completing all missions as a pilot of the Empire of Japan, the option to play as a pilot of the United States of America is opened. This grants access to new aircraft but only flip-flops mission objectives. The Japanese and American mission trees are essentially mirrored versions of one another.
Enemy difficulty does vary somewhat with the increase in mission difficulty but the level of challenge isn't anything to take special note of. Raising difficulty level seems to raise the amount of damage output from the enemies but not their skill levels. The most difficult enemies to deal with are the warships. They usually travel in groups with multiple anti-aircraft guns that have a longer range than aircraft machine guns. The warships quickly concentrate fire on any aircraft that enters their weapon range.
Voice acting through radio chatter is very limited with many lines reused in different missions. Story-wise not much content can be found there either. Unexpectedly, most of the more interesting parts of the story come by way of letters sent by families and other loved ones. These letters can be viewed after the end of each mission, but with no gallery to view them one must complete the mission again in order to view them. This is a small, simple addition but it is an effective way to further add depth to what little story there is. With there being no cast of characters, the letters from home are the sole personal touch for the player.
Fifteen aircraft are available in total: 6 for the United States of America and 9 for the Empire of Japan. These aircraft are a mixture of land-based and naval aircraft. Completing missions unlocks more aircraft, while the post-mission rating the player receives unlocks paint schemes and aircraft tuning settings. Changes in engine power, armor, machine gun power and more can be made.
Aichi D3A Type 99 Carrier Bomber
Mitsubishi A6M2B Zero Type 21 Carrier Fighter
Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero Type 22 Carrier Fighter
Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero Type 32 Carrier Fighter
Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero Type 52 Carrier Fighter
Mitsubishi Navy Type 1 Attack Bomber (G4M)
Nakajima Type 97 Carrier Attack Bomber
Boeing B-29 Super Fortress
Consolidated B-24 Liberator
Grumman F6F Hellcat
Lockheed P-38 Lightning
North American P-51 Mustang
Vought F4U Corsair
When starting up a game or simulator set in World War II, anyone with basic knowledge of history understands the level of technology available throughout the conflict. The weapons selection includes bombs, rockets, and torpedoes of many sizes. The option to launch without these weapons is also available. There is no limit in the quantity of how many of these weapons can be carried, but there is a reloading timer after the available stock of weapons is fired.
Naturally bombers such as the Mitsubishi G4M and Consolidated B-24 are able to carry larger versions of the torpedoes and bombs that smaller aircraft cannot. But even so, A6M 'Zeroes' and F6F Hellcats can be seen with almost comically large weapon loads. The first sight of a Vought F4U with four full-length torpedoes beneath each wing requires a moment or two to let sink in. Luckily, these visually overloaded weapons do not cause performance reduction on the aircraft carrying them.
The aircraft machine guns available on each aircraft all share the same damage output and sound effects. They are especially effective against air targets because of the large gun sight the game provides once an air target is in range. The enemy aircraft hit boxes are also somewhat on the large side, making it easy to shoot them down once in range and at a good angle. The gun sight provided only appears to help the player lead their target. The player is not provided with their own gun sight to generally show the path their bullets will follow. This makes visually lining up targets and using tracers to make adjustments is the go to method. Thorough use of yaw when firing the machine guns is necessary. Fortunately yaw is very easy to use and there is no threat of entering a stall from using is too much.
The omission of the aircraft having its own gun sight makes using machine guns on land and naval targets hard. A strafing run on a warship is particularly unrewarding. The time spent making corrections to hit the target allows the warship to pummel the incoming attacker. Factoring in that these warships usually travel in groups, the attacking aircraft will quickly find itself being hit rapidly from multiple angles. Coming off of a tedious strafing run with a large number of new holes in the aircraft isn't quite worth it. The use of air-to-ground and anti-ship weapons becomes even more appealing because of this.
With the game set in World War II the safe assumption would be that the most advanced weapon available would be unguided rockets. Most likely created for attacks against anything that doesn't fly. THE Zero Fighter throws a curve ball in weapons characteristics by allowing all torpedoes and rockets the ability to self-guide onto targets they lock onto. By far the most useful optional weapon is Small Rockets. Capable of hitting air, land and sea targets at twice the range of guns, they are akin to Standard Missiles in combat flight action games such as Ace Combat, Air Force Delta, Project Wingman and similar titles. The enemy also possesses these weapons, so evading guided rockets from an Aichi D3A is something that will happen. Alternatively, selecting a Mitsubishi Type-1 Attack Bomber with Small Rockets makes it a pseudo-Arsenal Plane, capable of firing a large amount of rockets at all targets from medium range.
More detailed information on the weapons is below:
Unguided bombs come in three sizes in this game: small, medium and large. Bomb damage and blast radius increases as size increases. The bomb sight that appears on screen is difficult to use. By using the zoomed out third person view and angling the camera downward with the right stick the sight can be better utilized.
Small sized rockets are self guiding capable of locking onto all targets. The range of all rockets are slightly longer than gun range. The maneuverability of these rockets is very limited, making them best used for striking targets at maximum distance that are not maneuvering too sharply. Rapid firing the rockets while closing in on the target is recommended.
Large sized rockets are only able to lock on to ground or naval targets. These rockets have higher damage output with the same limited maneuverability as small rockets. These Large rockets are great for attacking warships at safer distances.
Both small and large torpedoes feature the most unique and difficult guidance system in this game. They feature a limited guidance system that only activates when it makes contact with water. Torpedoes begin with the same lock-on function as Rockets but upon firing the torpedo flies in a straight line away from the aircraft. This can cause targets to be completely missed.
To maximize effectiveness: after establishing a lock-on, pitching the nose down to fire the torpedo short of the target allows it to make a minor correction as it guides onto the target. This weapon's maneuverability is even more limited than Rockets making selection of the initial point the torpedo makes contact with the water very important. Small torpedoes benefit from being able to fire faster than their large counterparts, but do not cause as much damage.
The overall flight model does not stand out for any positive reason. The focus on aircraft control is more on maneuverability than speed. All aircraft featured seem to accelerate and decelerate similarly and share the same top speed - which feels like a very low speed. Concurrently all aircraft, including the bombers, are more than maneuverable enough to out turn one another. The prospect of bringing a B-29 Super Fortress to a large scale air battle is actually somewhat promising. Coupled with its now Fighter-like maneuverability and forward mounted guns, all other gun positions on these bombers are also capable of firing at targets independently. The gunners can even hit targets while performing barrel rolls and Immelmann Turns.
The all-important Heads-Up Display (HUD) for THE Zero Fighter shows information that is standard in any flight game. Airspeed, altitude, ammunition, artificial horizon, wing damage, engine damage, target radar and the allotted amount of time left to complete the mission. The general direction of allies and enemies is also displayed on the compass navigation at the top of the HUD.
Altitude and speed are shown with radial gauges, but target distance is not represented in any measurable form of distance. Because of this, the only reliable way to judge target distance is visual. Either through the target lock-on indication for longer distances, knowing you are in short range when the gun sight appears near the target or by simply looking at the target and judging distance that way.
There are two noteworthy game mechanics that are beyond the standard flight game control scheme.
After selecting Homing but before activating it, enemy aircraft that are in range show a red gunsight somewhere near them. Once Homing is activated aircraft speed and control are automatically taken over by a sort of autopilot. The player only needs to fire their machine guns until the target is destroyed. Once the target is destroyed Homing turns off.
This causes a set amount of damage to enemies that are rammed while also inflicting damage to the player's aircraft. This function is the hardest to use due to the restriction of aircraft performance in the game.
While active it is possible to launch bombs, rockets and torpedoes at multiple targets.
Engine output is doubled for a short time.
A feature that many would remember from Battlefield 2 but would not expect from a flight game. Especially not from a game in a budget series like SIMPLE 2000. At any time during a mission pressing the Triangle button will allow the Player to switch from their pre-selected aircraft to any of the other allied aircraft participating in the battle. Though the aircraft cannot be manually selected before switching, the player can be granted access to attackers, fighters and bombers and their equipped weapons at the press of a single button.
This is by far the most attractive addition to this game but there is a specific danger that comes when hot swapping to another aircraft. Suddenly taking control of an unseen aircraft may put the player from flying horizontally to diving nose down at the ground setting up for a bomb attack. The threat of appearing in a somewhat dangerous position is real, but the reward of always being able to remain in the action via hot swap feels as though it is worth the risk. Immediately throttling down as soon as a hot swap is complete allows for more time to ascertain the situation of the aircraft that is now under the player's control. Two things to remember: Hot Swap is not available while a Special Skill is active and being shot down while attempting to Hot Swap will result in mission failure.A feature that many would remember from Battlefield 2 but would not expect from a flight game. Especially not from a game in a budget series like SIMPLE 2000. At any time during a mission pressing the Triangle button will allow the Player to switch from their pre-selected aircraft to any of the other allied aircraft participating in the battle. Though the aircraft cannot be manually selected before switching, the player can be granted access to attackers, fighters and bombers and their equipped weapons at the press of a single button.
The replay viewer features four camera angles that can be selected by using the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons. Though camera #4 has frequent problems with the clipping through aircraft or being blocked by parts of the aircraft, cameras #1-3 offer camera angles that focus on the player's controlled aircraft and dynamic cameras which show the battle from many sides. The emphasis on showing the large scale of battle is evident in the replay viewer. The quality of the replay viewer makes watching the post mission replay twice or three times in a row entertaining.
SIMPLE 2000 Series Vol. 117 THE Zero Fighter doesn't offer much in terms of replay value or long lasting experience but it does have a few features making it worth playing all the way through. Flight game enthusiasts outside of Japan certainly haven't missed out on much but the game is worth entertaining any passing interest.