The party game genre mostly consists of digital board games, casual fighters, and minigame collections. You seldom see a dogfighting minigame, but that's what Australian developer Dogmelon has produced with Baron: Fur Is Gonna Fly. Baron is a 2D flying/party game in which up to 8 biplanes battle it out in various modes. While this is mostly a party game, it features surprisingly realistic physics and occasionally frustrating difficulty. On the plus side, three of the game’s modes support local co-op – always a plus.
Baron: Fur Is Gonna Fly features 8 animals (a dog, a cat, a snake, a bear, etc.) who pilot biplanes in an early 20th century setting. While the pilots are animals, they look more like real animals in military outfits than typically sexualized furry artwork. All of them have humorous backstories that can be read on newspapers that scroll by if you wait at the title screen. Newspapers also display humorous blurbs about the selected characters at the start of most game types -a nice touch.
Whichever game type chosen, players get to engage in some minor customization before taking to the skies. After creating an in-game player profile (really an unnecessary step on Xbox since it already has an account system), you get to choose a pilot, an emblem, an aircraft (each has varying stats), a color for the plane, and a special weapon. The emblem appears on the tail of the player’s plane, but it also shows up in the sky as a visual effect whenever that player gets a kill.
Baron’s controls are deceptively simple. Just pull up or down on the analog stick to steer the plane. Flipping the plane over will turn it around. The plane automatically slows when flying up and accelerates when flying down. It can also stall out from flying up for too long. Weapons consist of the standard machine gun with unlimited fire, and special weapons that charge up over time. A roll button can be used to dodge some attacks (but not easily), and another button will slow down the plane without ascending. Because of the realistic flying physics, Baron requires more concentration than the average party game, but it’s not unfathomably complex either.
Depending on the game type, up to 8 local players (or a mix of humans and bots) can take to the skies together. The game’s campaign mode is called Sheep, for some reason. It does involve fighting enemy sheep pilots, but it’s a campaign. Call it what it is, developers! One or two local players will struggle through increasingly tough waves of enemies until they reach the final boss at the end. Friendly fire can’t be turned off in this mode, so both partners have to watch their shots. Each player gets a single life to take on the campaign; a downed player will respawn if the surviving player beats the level. Checkpoints come after every four levels, and continues are unlimited.
Sheep might sound like a decently fun campaign, and it starts out that way. However, it’s punishingly difficult. The enemies on certain levels can kill players way too easily, forcing numerous retries. The checkpoint system stinks as well. Quite often, the third or fourth level is what kills you, so you end up having to reply the preceding levels just to get back to the hard part. Unskippable, text-based dialog slowly plays out after every level, wasting plenty of time for players. I spent over an hour trying to beat the last four levels and eventually had to give up. Also annoying: the Achievement for beating Sheep mode specifically requires that you play single-player, so bringing along a co-op player won’t help to unlock it.
The party modes are much more enjoyable, thankfully. Of the six party modes, two support 4-player local co-op. Team Battle lets players fight a team of enemy planes for kills. In the slightly more complex Paint mode, the planes of each team leave a colored trail of smoke behind them. Whichever team has painted more of the screen when time runs out wins. Both modes are quite fun and offer numerous options to customize the experience (such as number of rounds and friendly fire on or off). Non-cooperative party modes include Battle (a free for all), Capture the Cow, Souvenir (collect coins), and King of the Hill. Finally, the game also offers a poorly-named Training mode. It’s actually a single-player mode in which the player must quickly collect coins that appear in the sky.
Dogmelon is a 2-man developer, so you can’t expect the very highest production values. The graphics are a bit on the plane, I mean plain side, especially the backgrounds. A few levels have scrolling clouds in the background, but the majority lack animation and personality. The game does have a quality British announcer, though, as well as a surprisingly ambitious soundtrack.
The songs all feature an early 20th-century style, but they’re actually original lyrical songs about the game’s characters! You can even read the lyrics in the sound test. I certainly respect the effort put into the soundtrack, but I can’t say I love the music. The songs really blend together after a while, and they’ve had a sleep-inducing effect on me. A better (and probably less expensive) soundtrack could’ve included era-appropriate classical tunes like “The Flight of the Valkyries” – songs with more pep in their step.
Despite the frustrating Sheep campaign, Baron: Fur Is Gonna Fly is still a pretty good party game. The mixture of simple controls with realistic flight physics, as well as a strong variety of game types and options, makes for a quality party experience. Even the thought that went into the character bios and original songs is impressive. Other than properly balancing the difficulty of the Sheep and Training modes, the only other gameplay change I could wish for would be the addition of power-ups that spawn during matches. As it stands, players choose a special weapon before the match starts, but nothing cool pops up during the match itself. Some game-altering items would enhance the party atmosphere. Still, this is one dogfighting game that already makes for a doggone good time with friends.
An Xbox code was provided by the developer for this review.
The Co-Op Experience: Two local players can team up against AI enemies in the Sheep campaign. In Sheep, both players battle increasingly tough waves of enemy aircraft, and friendly fire can't be disabled. If 1 player dies and the other beats a level, the downed player will respawn on the next level. Up to 4 local players can team up in the Team Battle and Paint game types. In Team Battle, the player team can battle against an enemy team. In Paint, the player team tries to paint more of the sky than the enemy team. Friendly fire can be disabled in these game types.
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