Like many of Namco Bandai's flagship franchises, Ace Combat has gone through some weird changes over the past couple of years. The PSP-only, multiplayer-centric Joint Assault took the series into the real world while offering local system-to-system co-op that few outside of Japan probably took much advantage of. Last month's Assault Horizon boosted the franchise's core formula with a shot of Call of Duty, adding chopper and bombing missions, and keeping the real world setting while fostering a more Westernized feel.
Legacy, Assault Horizon's 3DS spin-off, mostly ignores both its console sibling as well as its portable predecessor. You won't find multiplayer co-op modes or a Western atmosphere; there are no Apaches to fly or bombing missions to take on; and the real world has once again been replaced with Project Aces' more typical anime-inspired trappings. If Assault Horizon was something of a response to modern military shooters, Legacy feels like an Ace Combat that's been distilled, more or less, to a core experience.
What pulls it together here are the semi-auto offense and evasion techniques you're afforded during often tense dogfighting sessions. Initially seen in Project Aces' Wii anime adaptation The Sky Crawlers, these moves basically let you manoeuvre out of an incoming missile's path, or fly behind an enemy aircraft once you've tracked them for more than a few seconds.
Though this may at first seem like a less skilled way of negotiating a dogfight, the catch is that the further you progress in Legacy's campaign, the more rivals will utilize the same tricks. Later levels barely give you breathing room between shaking attackers and positioning yourself for tactical counter attack. These targeting actions were inexplicably absent in the slower-by-comparison Joint Assault (you're given access to a high speed airbreak for fast turning here), and between the 3D depth and the quick-cut montages of your fighter performing high-octane twists, banks and rolls, Legacy does a good job approximating the speed and excitement of air combat.
Without the presence of multiplayer -- a move that does seem a bit odd, given the portable platform -- Legacy's quality rests on its sufficiently varied campaign, which takes you all over the realm of Project Aces' usual sci-fi military industrial complex. Branching paths that occasionally appear after missions help further extend the campaign's five-ish hour length as well, though few levels take more than around ten minutes to finish. Lack of local co-op notwithstanding, at least Aces gives you the option of an occasional A.I. wingman and upgradeable aircraft.
Unsurprisingly for a handheld port, Legacy often feels like more of a back-to-basics, stripped down Ace Combat. Yet despite some noticeable absences (where are the gyroscope controls?) it still somehow has the personality of an Ace Combat game, evident as much in its "rebel versus nationalist" storyline as it is in the streamlined, effortlessness of piloting a screaming Super Hornet. It might not be worth $40 for some gamers, but series fans will appreciate it.