|I'd make a Busou Shinki reference, but that would cross the streams.|
-LOOK AT THOSE TANKS I'M GONNA JET DOWN AND SLICE THE SHIT OUT OF THEM
-OH A LARGER SCALE SPEEDER PEW PEW SCREW YOU
-BATTLESHIPS? I'LL BATTLE YOUR SHIP!
-Localization hurts the story.
-Mech-on-mech fights are poorly executed.
Iron Combat is a transformable mech simulation, which means you fly around and shoot things and get ranked for how little damage you take while shooting things. The things you shoot vary, but most of their tactics are similar- get fucking wrecked by a robot girl who outclasses them in every way.
The story here is a bit more in-depth, but you'll barely be able to pick up on it because the voice acting is entirely in Japanese, and the only prompt you get is English text that appears in the mission briefing and during the battles, which are hectic and will punish you for stopping to read, so that's too bad. The narrative isn't really all that stellar, but the game pushes you to believe otherwise, with the final cutscene focused around the story that unfolds around the robot girls rather than the war. Which, again, is disappointing- if they had gone all-out and made it super gritty, I would probably enjoy playing as a girl mech even more. Alas, the real grit only comes from the Iron Combat (War in the Air).
The gameplay itself is very satisfying, and though I no longer have 3D on my XL, I can see playing this title with it on being quite exhilarating. There's plenty of gameplay nuances in the combat mechanics that you probably won't pick up on unless you read the manual (you should probably do that), because the game teaches you nothing. Yet, even as I was learning the controls because I didn't realize there was a digital manual, the game was still extremely fun and enjoyable. The camera mechanic that locks on a single foe as long as you are in mech mode makes the spinning visuals very fun, and the jet controls feel logical despite being a bit uncomfortable. Hey- you can barrel roll, transform, and watch as your mech corrects herself with dizzying grace. It's a smooth experience, and it feels great. I rarely say that about many games, but when you're playing Iron Combat correctly, the game really does make you feel like you're in the heat of the moment.
My major complaints have to do with the localization, but also, the few moments where you get the chance to fight another mech on your skill level are a bit disappointing. There's definitely some aspects that require precision in regards to these fights, but the whole thing feels like missile recharging rather than utilizing melee or standard weapon fire. But who knows, maybe there's more depth than I found. The game encourages at least two playthroughs, and though the second will initially be easier because of the unlocked equipment from the first run, the alternate path ends up being just as difficult as the first run. All-in-all, even without a completionist's mindset, it surpasses the length of another similar mech battle sim on the eShop. The game also has a wide variety of enemies and challenges on its own, and though the ranking system is a little less sophisticated than one would hope a high-intensity action game would have (I have only seen damage taken act as a real factor, time might play into it a bit but I doubt it), this is a rare example of an eShop title that packs quite a punch and is fun all at the same time. That's not to say that mastering the gameplay is easy- some enemy encounters are quite frustrating and grinding for cash in Free Mode sometimes feels like the best way to get things done- but if more eShop titles were like this, I would be a happier man.
Final Verdict: With brisk gameplay, a variety of challenges (in both in-game achievements, enemy design, and ranking), and decent replayability, Iron Combat: War in the Air sounds generic, but really is anything but that. It's an intense romp that will leave you looking for more mech combat on 3DS. Move over, Liberation Maiden.