Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk Review
Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk box art
System: Wii, PS2, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: Kando Games 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: XS Games 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Sep. 16, 2008 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

When Rebel Raiders: Operation Nighthawk hit the PlayStation 2 last year, it was a budget release that earned a mediocre critical reception. Certainly, it's a complete shock that the game's makers found such a title ripe for a "slap-on-some-motion-controls" Wii port. Even more shocking: this, too, is a budget release that deserves a mediocre reception.

Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk screenshot

The first thing one notices is that the developers couldn't have been more lazy in porting this game. When starting a new save file, the name-entry keypad doesn't even let you use the Wii-mote's pointer feature to spell your moniker. In the tutorial, the voice-over instructs you to press "the [insert function] button," instead of naming the button in question. In its place, some text pops up with that information, like a subtitle to a foreign-language film. They didn't even add progressive-scan support, which is unacceptable for a title on a current-generation console; Wii games don't exactly look stunning on modern TVs to begin with.

None of this raises hopes for the big question: how do the Wii's motion controls work for arcade-style aerial combat? The scheme here rests on a great idea, meaning there's plenty of hope for future titles. Unfortunately, the developers didn't take the time to perfect them this time around.

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The player flips the controllers around, holding the Nunchuk in his right hand, the Wii-mote in his left. The Nunchuk functions as a control stick for steering the plane and firing weapons (it's motion-sensitive too, remember?), and the Wii-mote serves as the plane's dashboard, with buttons for reloading, speeding up, and slowing down.

The problem comes with the Nunchuk's steering; the plane is far too sensitive, drunkenly weaving around with each shift of the hand. This makes aiming a real pain and overcompensation a constant problem, and there's no option to use a different scheme or a GameCube controller (the latter is surprising, given how similar the GameCube and PS2's controllers are). Reviewers often commented on how easy the PS2 version was, but trying to keep your sites trained on a target can be controller-smashingly frustrating here.

Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk screenshot

What we're left with, then, is the underlying game, a shovelware title from a last-generation system. The graphics are passable (the sun looks nice, the airplanes seem fearsome, and nothing looks so bad as to jump out at you), but the landscapes have almost no detail or texture to them. The music doesn't (usually) grate, though it doesn't stand out, either. The sound effects are all right as well, serving their purpose without creating a truly engrossing experience. Basic gameplay can be mildly entertaining at times, but there's not much of a sense of speed (even at the highest speed setting, sometimes it actually feels slow), not much of a sense of realism, and not much of a sense of action.

There are 16 core missions, plus some special ones, and cutscenes divide each into several parts. These cutscenes tie the battles into a larger storyline; it's the future, you're fighting against totalitarian forces, and the people who recorded the voice lines couldn't act their way out of paper bags.

Rebel Riders: Operation Nighthawk screenshot

In the battles, there are two basic categories of targets, and each part of a mission tends to focus on one or the other. The first type is the rival airplane, and they're ridiculously easy to handle, even with your plane staggering around like it's running on Jack Daniels. When you fly close to them, you automatically "lock on" and can let off a barrage of missiles to take them down (ammo is unlimited, though you need to reload periodically with the Wii-mote's D-pad).

Screenshots / Images
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