Reviewed: June 13, 2006
Released: April 28, 2006
I was fourteen years old and a freshman in high school when the movie Top Gun hit the silver screen in 1986. A love story about a maverick Navy pilot-in-training (named, er “Maverick”), and a beautiful civilian teacher, Top Gun was the perfect date movie for the eighties – featuring tons of intense action, steamy love scenes, cold-war drama, and heartbreaking tragedy and above all…a cast of beautiful, beautiful people.
Men’s minds filled with dirty thoughts over the beautiful and often scantily-clad Kelly McGillis, while the chicks swooned over the handsome lead character Maverick, played by the as-recently-discovered Tom Cruise, and his oh-so-nice sidekick Goose (Anthony Edwards) as they battled for the top seat against the smarmy Iceman (Val Kilmer) and crew.
The Top Gun movie single-handedly spearheaded the nation’s love for all things aerospace, and two decades later its effects are still evident – whether it’s the fact that most thirty-something men can sort out F14, F16 and F/A-18 fighter planes for you on the drop of a dime, or whether it’s your neighbor asking for “permission to do a flyby, sir” while he mows the fencerow, the impact of that movie is undeniable.
So, it comes as no surprise that even now, in 2006, that the Top Gun name is one of the most sought-after licenses in flight-based video games. Over the past 20 years we have seen a number of games and gimmicky accessories come over our desk emblazoned with the unforgettably patriotic Top Gun logo. Most of these items have ultimately proven to be a disappointment, including the latest release for the Nintendo DS – simply called Top Gun.
The most striking aspect of Top Gun for the DS is that it doesn’t play like your standard handheld flight game – whereas most handheld flight titles give an isometric or birds-eye view of the action, Top Gun plays like a true console flight sim with a third person behind-the-craft view in a 3D space. In fact, Top Gun for the DS looks way more like the true-blue console Ace Combat games than the actual Ace Combat DS game did. It is pretty amazing how the developers eeked this much technical muscle out of the little handheld.
But this technical muscle is really all that Top Gun has going for it, as the rest of the game begins to unravel quickly.
The campaign mode lets you choose from four available characters, and three available aircraft, in your quest to achieve the ranking of Top Gun. The first thing you will realize is that the 11 included missions in the campaign mode quickly prove to be quite dull and unimaginative… Shooting down hoards of MIG fighters? Check. Bombing land-based targets? Check. It’s all the same old flight sim we have been playing for years – and it’s becoming a bit overused.
Matters are made worse by the fact that the targets are often unfairly difficult to locate – more as a result of the smaller screen than anything else, but still quite frustrating when you get shot down three-quarters of the way through a mission with little or no recourse but to start all the way over at the beginning. Then, once you suddenly get the hang of targeting the zeros using the almost too-easy guided missiles, the game answers by throwing in a whole handful of cheap tactics to get you down, like randomly spawning enemy planes and nebulous mission assignments.
Top Gun does allow for up to four-player dogfights using a single cartridge and the local wireless connection. The mode is fun for a while, and being able to play off of one cartridge is cool, but overall a bit unimpressive.
And, as mentioned earlier – the game plays from an remarkable 3D point of view, much like a console title would. The action floats at a fairly steady 30-60 frames per second, which is quite impressive indeed – but considering the general lack of scenery it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
On the downside, the ground textures are a bit blotchy and the smaller screen size does make it awfully difficult to locate targets.
Thankfully, while Top Gun does feature the Top Gun instrumental theme music – the developers spared our ears from Kenny Loggins’ awful “Highway to the Danger Zone”.
As for sound effects, the whines of the jet engines are fairly impressive – especially when booming through a quality headset. The constant repetitive banter of the pilots can be a bit irritating after a while, but are easily ignored.
When all is said and done, Top Gun – while technically impressive overall – is not really all that enjoyable or rewarding of a game. Cheap deaths and respawning enemies do not a good game make.
At thirty bucks, there are so many games that might be better worth your money.
Twenty years after Top Gun’s theatrical release, and the world is a whole different place; VHS has come and gone, the Cold War is officially over, the Berlin Wall is gone, music has gotten infinitely better, and even old Tom Cruise has gone madly insane.
But in those same twenty years, some things have remained steady; Top Gun is still a family favorite DVD, and the tie-in games are still as boring as ever.