The most popular theme for WWI video games has to be the good old dogfight, the aerial combat of the very first hour conducted by such famous aces like Manfred von Richthofen (aka the Red Baron). There is a certain kind of romanticism about those noble knights of the skies, their chivalry and heroic deeds, which lends itself quite well to games with simplistic morals and a somewhat watered down depiction of the great war. No mustard gas, no machine guns, no drowning in the trenches, just you, your plane and maybe a couple of opponents. Your ‘battles’ are really straightforward and often there is not that much at stake. Sometimes mission briefings tend to hype your flights up a notch or two, although in real life aviation was not the ends of all means like it is often depicted in those video games. The game we are going to discuss right now might either be considered a prime example of this belittlement or as the perfect deconstruction of its glorification. It all depends on how serious you are going to take it.
Wing Nuts is a classical rail shooter from around the turn of the century, when FMV scenes held together by mediocre action or puzzle sequences were incredibly popular. It is comparable to Star Wars: Rebel Assault, even though it features only one kind of level and is set in a galaxy a little bit closer to our own – although as far as realism or even historical accuracy goes still far enough away to be called a fantasy. The story takes place somewhere at the west front during the First World War, and you slip into the role of a young American pilot who is up against an incredibly cheesy Roten Baron and his very own air force of sitting ducks. Said aristocrat has the audacity to attack your flight wing, while you where just making some progress with that nice French girl (with the not so nice fake accent). But alas! there is no reason to panic: Your good Italian friend (with the incredibly bad Ameritalian mumbo-jumbo) races to you and drags you back to the aeroport just in time to get your orders from your wanna-be British commander for immediate take-off.
As soon as you manage to digest that conglomeration of bad cliches and comical stereotypes you are right in the middle of the action, at the very heart of the game: A German plane is waggling up and down on the screen, you get your cross hairs, two life bars (as usual one for you and one for your enemy) and a scale for your gun temperature. Even if you should never have seen this setup before, it is immediately clear what you will have to do the next hour of your life (that is, if you are really willing to go through with this). Pull the sluggish aim to the enemy plain and shoot away. There are only two things to watch out for: Do not get the gun temperature too high, by avoiding constant firing, and try to catch the bonuses, which give you superpowers like rapid fire, extra lifes and instant gun cool-down. If you fail to blast your enemy out of the sky within a certain time limit, he moves behind you and you have to dodge him by moving away as fast as you can – preferably in the right direction. As soon as one of the health bars runs out, you are rewarded/punished by a short clip showing a crashing plane and another plane pops up. Rinse and repeat… and repeat… and repeat… There are only a couple of exceptions to this endless routine, in form of a bomb drop and attacks on tougher targets like a balloon and a zeppelin.
Although this is not especially groundbreaking, it would be kind of OK, if it was not for that short clips during the fights, which show the planes moving around and/or crashing. Not only do the three or four of them get old incredibly fast, they also take far too long. Just now you were right in the heat of the battle, and the next moment your enemy moves out of sight and you have to watch that several seconds long clip of the planes flying up and down, followed by your pilot looking around, all over again. During your dogfights you spend almost half of your time with watching these interludes. And what is even worse are the attack runs on said bigger targets, because if you should fail at your first attempt, you are treated to some extra bi-planes. Your only hope are the bombs, which tend to take them out in one go, but the time frame to use the explosives is cruelly short and the aiming points are far too small. Overall you can reckon that you will need several extra rounds, which means some extra time spend on reruns of the same old program.
But, as incredible as it sounds, there might be a reason to this routine, at least you can almost understand why the developers put so many of those scenes in their game: They feature an unusually high production value. The planes look authentic, the pilot gear and the uniforms are not just some cheap rags, but come close to the real thing, and as far as the crash landings and explosions are concerned, at first I wondered how they dared to blow up the planes (until I realised that if you look more closely you can tell, that they are – very detailed – models). And this at a time when in most flight sims a plane meant a milk carton with some insignia stickers. If the video was not that pixelated it would even hold up to today’s standard.
Which certainly can not be said about the acting. As mentioned above the actors try their best at some horrible imitations of several accents, which sound awful even to a non-native speakers. As for the acting itself, well, it is on par with the plot, which is as cheesy as it can get. If you should have any doubts about it, just take a look at the Red Baron, who does not even try to get close to the actual historical figure, but is the archetype of the German villain: A fat old Man in dress uniform full of medals, who is shouting ‘Schwein’ a lot and loves to twirl his beard. Still, if you are a fan of B-Movies or over the top acting this is pure gold. And since you can clearly tell that it was intended as a parody and was not meant to be taken seriously in the first place, you could say that the short film this game has to offer is a success. That is if you consider it as a pun at the oh so serious knightly image of the top aces or the rather dry flight simulators featuring them.
If you want to, you can take it even further, because the developers included a special game mode, where they dubbed the videos with some silly antics. The call to arms becomes a mail run gone wrong, the pilots just want to dig for some exploding dirt and if you should fail your mission, you did so because you forgot about a shopping list. It might sound stupid, but its actually quite creative and shows a healthy dose of self-irony.
Overall it might be a terrible game, but the story and the novelty factor almost make up for it and since it is not overly long, it is not that much waste of time anyway. At least I would recommend to take a short look at one of the longplays, where you can simply skip the tedious action sequences and enjoy some very cheesy fun.