The little things matter in flight games. When you crank up an engine, you want the jet exhaust to grease up the screen. You want to hear the thick, thunderous crack of a sound barrier break. And you want to feel like the world is insignificant as you slice through the air at 1500 MPH while a song that vaguely sounds like the one from that weird Cruise flick pounds in the background. Namco Bandai's Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy [$4.99] nails a lot of these little things, and while the premise sucks and it occasionally doesn't look so great, few iOS games deliver as consistently as this one.

Backing up, Sky Gamblers is an arcade flight game that feels pretty similar to the Ace Combat series. It plays it loose with things like, say, physics and reality, but doesn't try to pretend to be anything else other than an insanely fast-paced, action shooter in the air. It's really good at leveraging these aspects, too: the sense of speed is fantastic and the maneuvering and shooting components feel blessedly fluid. These things define the experience.

A good chunk of Apple's faithful should know this game already. It was one of the two titles given a substantial demo at the new iPad press event. As expected, it delivers on a visual level. The assets, and particularly the planes, are rendered with a healthy respect for the new iPad's higher resolution screen, and most of the environments look alright, too. This also boasts a ton of atmospheric and effects touches that bolster the pace-pumping, action scenarios that dot its content landscape.

But while it nails a lot of the little things, it flubs a few, too. In particular, some of the texture work on ground details and buildings and infantry are straight up ugly, and don't reflect the work put into the rest of the title. The tutorial in particular is a mess, and the voice acting isn't so good, either.

The thing that it gets the most wrong is its own story. Told through a jumble of comic book-style entries as if it were a Max Payne, the premise is a mess of poorly constructed context and devices. From what I can gather, you play as a hotshot pilot who, suddenly, finds himself without an army to call home. After a canyon run, you meet up with a group of lovable mercenaries and then join up.

There's just enough reason in its madness to justify the fact that you're in a plane and charged with killing people -- a lot of people, in fact, across a campaign that tries to feature every environment, objective, enemy type, and color in the Game Design Handbook.

In the first mission, for example, you'll fly alongside a squad on a quest to kill enemy fighters across a field and over the top of a city. Later, in a desert level, you'll be asked to rip through enemy fighters while bombing ground infantry shortly before moving to a Bomb the Base objective. These layers and the sheer scale of each level hammer home the speed your craft can go, and that adds a palpable thrill to each confrontation or traveling section. Dogfights on the other hand reinforce the gracefulness of flight, as you'll need to spiral or otherwise dance away from lock-ons, circle for position, and hunt your prey airplane-style.

The latter is an important point: since Sky Gamblers doesn't care about natural laws, there's a distinct, teeth-rattling speed inherent in the combat design. Fights are all about how many bullets you can let loose while doing crazy stuff, like, say, flying upside down with the throttle all the way up. The same old flight game strategies still apply: you do want to get behind the enemy and execute successive passes, but the way you go about it in Sky Gamblers gives it an awesome edge. Everything just feels so fast; it's bliss.

Flight games, strangely, have found a home on iOS. The controls seem to work, and this is no exception. The casual pro scheme in particular is great; the d-pad that controls the movement is robust and floats, and the pitch doesn't get in the way. You can also use accelerometer controls, but those never clicked with me.

If the campaign doesn't do it for you, then there's a bounty of bonus modes and missions to check out. Team Deathmatch, Bomb the Base, and several survival modes are all ready to be played from the get-go. You can take these online, too, and the component seems, surprisingly, solid. I've yet to experience lag and the matchmaking is sharp.

If you have a new iPad, this is clearly one of THE games to get, as its boasting some of the best 3D, high resolution visuals at the moment. If you dig explode-y things and moving really fast, you'll probably want to give this a look, too. Smart design bolsters both of these aspects. Check it out.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • ohwussup

    no love for iphone?

    • famousringo

      Yes, love for iPhone. This is a universal app. Some would even say that a tilt-based game like this plays better on the iPhone (I would be one of those).

      Review is spot on, except it neglects to promote the Simulator control scheme, which features the best tilt controls I've experienced since Real Racing.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnRobertMatz John Robert Matz

    Great review; one horrible, nit-picky comment: unless the mission takes place over frosted parfait and sugarplums, it's probably a *desert* level that you duel enemy fighters over, while dropping 500lb bombs on infantry and tank units.  Although, now that I think of it, gingerbread spec-ops teams and licorice SAM-sites might be an interesting art style...

    • David Wilson

      John, I think it may have been a view of the Arctic map at sunset or sunrise, giving it the golden (brownish) tinge.  The lighting changes as the sun goes up or down.

      If you want to see a bunch of good screenshots, go to the Facebook page for the app:   https://www.facebook.com/airsupremacy

      Or to the Fanclub site:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/376554915697487/

      There is a great community growing at the fan site.  Lots of great pilots.  Join it if you want to hear from the folks you see in the skies and on the leader boards, as well as the developers.  They are all there.  All are welcome.  

      • Ben Ruddock

         He was making joke about the misspelling of desert as 'dessert' in the review, that's all.

  • apolloa

    Oh my God!! I got this an hour ago and played a bit but I think I can already say it's THE best flying game on the App Store! Well done!! It runs really smooth too on my iPhone 4, so I don't even get all the fancy graphics but it looks great. The controls are very good, that makes the difference, I am just using the casual joystick one and it works great! Plus you can find an enemy to shoot down without having to spin upside down for half an hour. Very good game.

  • http://twitter.com/back2this Sean Yuan

    This is the first game I'm going to get when I get my 4S in 2 weeks or so. I don't even like flight sims/dogfighters, but this looks way too impressive. Can't believe Namco left out iAPs this time around.

    @back2this:twitter 

  • Tim Cant

    Please, please, please don't use "one of THE".... it's meaningless!!!! And now I'm bitching about it on the internet. FMFL

  • Ben Ruddock

    I wish there was a control scheme that gave me full pitch and roll on a virtual joystick... *sigh*

  • http://twitter.com/Dalie81 Dalie

    It's actually one of the few games I can honestly say that I enjoy using the "tilt" controls.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/E5TXZPZEFMY37UC4CFB5KQU5UI Koushi

    Nice review but why isn't mentioned that the campaign isn't complete? They give you only 10 missions and after that a short sequence: More to come. First of all: For free or in App purchase? And second: Why do we have to wait for the game to be completed later? This sucks and reminds me of the adventure 1112...bad memories.  Besides that the game of course is great. Just wish it would have been delivered with all levels right away.

  • Rob Geeson

    Yeah, some of the building's textures aren't overly impressive.. and some of the apples on the trees aren't bump mapped.. but this game costs five bucks! If this was a $60 game then fair enough - gripe warranted - but it certainly does the job for that price point!

  • Eraser74

    It´s a nice iOS game with absolutely no realistic touches. The flightmodel is totally unrealistic and for someone that is used to flying games it does take some time to get used to it. When you roll the plane normally you would fly a curve, but not with this one, you have to roll the plane and then pitch the nose up or down to fly a curve, which is VERY unnatural and doesn´t feel very good.

    But you get used to it after a while. Just don´t expect anything realistic with this one, landing rolls are particularly hilarious, the plane touches the ground and IMMEDIATELY comes to a stop!

    But well, it´s a nice arcade title.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bobby-Comment/100003647774269 Bobby Comment

      U do realize this is a $5 app for phones and tablets not a $100 flight simulator for the ps3 or computer built for gaming?

      • Onikage725

        So? He said it takes getting used to. He wasn't bashing? The oddest thing about the iOS gaming scene- "it's a legitimate gaming platform!" -someone levels a critique about a shortcoming- "you realize it's just a phone, right??
        Can't have it both ways.

  • robotnyk

    Anyone has a clue what kind of engine this runs on?

  • http://twitter.com/klatuu Robin

    Absolutely great is, that you can play the game on the big screen via Apple TV. Wonderful and fast.

  • http://www.cellpig.com/ Cellpig.com Co-Owner Bryan

    Is there a way to only use touch controls? I'd like to not use the accelerometer at all. I can't find how in the control section.

  • Dat Rizal

    guys.. can it play online just using 3g connection?

  • Dat Rizal

    guys.. can it play online just using 3g connection?

  • http://www.ipad3games.co/2012/07/best-ipad-games.html saeed

     Sky Gamblers allows the user to set the gameplay buttons; making it a
    whole lot is easier to adjust with the game. With mind-blowing graphics,
    the touch technology and dogfight offer a wonderful experience.

Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy Reviewed by Brad Nicholson on . Rating: 4.5