petition has surfaced - this time calling for Sega to resurrect AM2's aerial shooter and give it the opportunity it arguably deserved. At the time of writing, said petition has a paltry 37 signatures and I really do doubt that the creator of the project appreciates the Herculean effort it would take to get a game such as Propeller Arena updated for modern systems and contemporary online infrastructure. As nice an idea as it is, I think we should just appreciate what we do have - a game that was almost finished, was subsequently leaked...and turned out to be one of the greatest games the Dreamcast never officially got.
The Propeller Arena story is well known amongst the Dreamcast community so I won't dwell on it too much - this is really a look at how the game plays more than anything. However, for those who aren't familiar, the abridged version is that Sega was deep into the porting of Propeller Arena from the arcade to the home, and then the tragic events of September 11th 2001 happened. Because Propeller Arena featured planes throughout; and tall buildings in one of the stages (aptly titled Tower City), it was deemed that to release it at such a sensitive time would be rather distasteful, and so the game was shelved. Unfortunately, due to the subsequent demise of the Dreamcast, the temporary shelving became a permanent one and the rest is history. On this subject, I seem to recall that the first Spiderman movie also featured scenes of a similar nature and was delayed so that any Twin Towers references could be removed...however I'm not sure if I made that up, so addled is my brain from intervening years of Pot Noodle, Findus crispy pancake and Carlsberg/Old Speckled Hen abuse.
On the face of it Propeller Arena may just look like a standard arcade game, but there is serious consideration for real-world restrictions to flight such as engine stalls and negative G-forces. It's nowhere near as draconian as something like Aero Wings, but external forces do work against you and you'll quickly find that you can't perform impossible moves at the flick of a stick. That said, the planes are all able to perform stunts that can become useful when you enter the actual combat arena and these are activated using combinations that wouldn't be out of place in a Capcom fighting game. Loops, U-turns, speed boosts et al are all activated using commands you last used while playing Capcom vs SNK, so if you're particularly good at fighters - Dreamcast-based or otherwise - the chances are you'll have an upper hand in Propeller Arena.
Auto aim is fairly forgiving but not game-breaking, and if you tail an enemy for long enough you can initiate a really cool-looking focus pull where you lock on and get to pepper the enemy with lead. Explosions are spectacular, lens flares are blinding, and everything just looks solid. The stages are all quite unique and feature a plethora of environments from cityscapes and arctic wastes, to deserts and castles...and while these environments are all quite limited in scale, they all look believable and have their own foibles. The city stage allows for some really tight dogfights between the buildings, while the castle stage sees you blasting under arches and around parapets like Biggles. Further still, the desert stage will see you battling in tight ravines like Will Smith in Independence Day and the openness of the sky stage will see you relying solely on the manoeuvres you've mastered as there is literally nowhere to hide.
Maybe that petition is worth looking at after all. Maybe.