The Nintendo Switch doesn’t have an F.T.L or an X-Com, both superb strategy games for PC. In fact, it doesn’t have many games where juggling jobs as part of a small crew is integral to the mechanics. But, it does have Bomber Crew. Which is the closest thing to it and is certainly a game that needs to be played. Although, it’s not a title for those with low patience and later levels become so frantic that the game suffers from the number of tasks and a vast difficulty spike.
Bomber Crew places you in control of a team in the Air Force during World War Two. Each member of the team is responsible for certain aspects of the plane – piloting, radar, guns, mechanics and bombing. The concept asks you to move the crew around, ensuring they all keep up with their tasks. It’s like a chess game, if the board were constantly moving and occasionally catching fire and the pieces were erratic in their movement behaviour. Selecting the members is simply a case of holding down the B Button, which brings up mini-menus of commands.
The pilot controls altitude, landing gears and, later, specialist movement like emergency dives which put out engine fires. The radar kind of looks after itself, but you can scout the map in increasing distances from a small selection. The mechanic watches your fuel consumption and can be moved around the plane as things inevitably break down or catch fire. Gunners, are the most awkward to use, but the most satisfying when utilised correctly.
In order to highlight enemy fighters or new course corrections, you need to angle the camera to highlight the planes or map heading. Holding down the Left Trigger on the planes will inform your gunners to start firing – you can heighten their focus on cooldown commands which will increase accuracy. You can’t directly control their fire patterns, so much of the targeting is left up to chance, which is fine. At first, this is an interesting way to use the crew, though after time, things become too chaotic and enemy planes will infuriate as they dart around. Add in the juggling of sending people to the med bay, or topping up ammo, fixing electrical systems and committing to piloting moves – the game starts to feel cluttered.
While the actual menus and controls systems are simple and smooth, once the tasks begin to mount up, the shortcomings of holding down buttons and slowly dragging the cursor around start to show. This is all before even discussing the central concept of the name, bombing. Moving a gunner to the bomb bay doors allows for a target to appear as the plane moves slowly over the target. Choosing bombs and releasing them at the right moment is key, but it takes your mind away from everything else. You can’t just click and select your mechanic and send him out onto the wing to fix an engine, while you’re aiming at the ground or sea. And when you aren’t dropping bombs, you’re taking aerial photos for surveillance in the same fashion.
Bomber Crew suffers occasionally from having one too many ideas. Each of them is fine, works well and mechanically shine. But jumble them all together and it all gets a bit messy. Which then impacts the perma-death features of the crew. Keep your team alive and they’ll level up, unlocking bonuses. Get them killed and you’ll have to grab a newbie from the base to take their place, training them up again slowly. It’s easy to lose people when the action ramps up – you only need to click on the wrong section of the plane and they’ll get chewed up by bullets or even, in one instance, just fall off of the aircraft.
Successful missions reward money and XP. The former goes towards upgrading your plane or kitting out the squad in more effective gear. This is probably the most interesting idea within the game. Do you sacrifice armour for speed of movement? Maybe you want to keep them warm with thermal gear, but it will impact how they move around the craft. It’s all a fine balance. Same for the plane itself – do you equip more armour but weigh the craft down? Or perhaps go for speed, knowing that fewer bullets will be required to take you down? The game goes out of its way to create a bond between player and crew and even plane. Everything is customisable, making your game unique to you.
Bomber Crew is increasingly difficult and often frustrating, but it has bags of charm and completely suits the Switch. Playing portably is a great way to experience the game; it looks lovely and contains some wonderful nuances within the sound and features. I loved the little homing pigeon, decaling my plane with garish pictures of Yoshi and solving problems, if only there weren’t so many problems to solve at the same time.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Curve Digital