The mobile phone market is perhaps the most limited space in which to develop a game. The reliance on a purely touch-based experience requires a lot of adjustment and ingenuity. Elements of game design that would never be sacrificed in a traditional space are often the first things out the window when it comes to a mobile game. The Switch is no stranger to these games. While some make the climb back up to true console experiences like Manticore: Galaxy on Fire, others simply arrive on a real console woefully unprepared for play outside of a cell phone.
Warplanes: WW2 Dogfights is an extremely light aerial dogfighting game. I say light because so much of what that genre would normally entail is woefully absent here. Presumably to aid mobile players, the controls and behavior of your aircraft have been simplified to an egregious degree. Things play out in third person, with your plane’s direction being controlled with the left stick and its speed being adjusted on the right. That’s all well and good until you actual make it into combat. When you do you’ll be encouraged to lock onto the enemy. This doesn’t just direct your camera towards a target to aid in tracking; it literally takes over control of your ship and even leads your shots. Because why bother playing games. Now to be fair, one could simply not use the target lock in order to re-introduce some challenge. But doing this simply leads to another of Warplanes’ flaws: your plane isn’t fun to fly. You can slowly turn left and right and gradually drift up or down, but you can’t do any interesting maneuvers. You can’t flip over as an enemy is tailing you to get behind them (not that the AI is anywhere near good enough to tail you), nor can you rotate your plane along the Z-axis to go into a tight turn as you pursue an enemy. Your plane on the whole just feels stiff.
Behind the titular dogfights, Warplanes also features a base building and pilot training mechanic. Between every mission you’ll be sent back to your base with the resources you won. These resources can be used to buy more planes, bring in more pilots, upgrade the equipment you have, or build out your base to house more resources, pilots, and planes. The whole thing was very clearly originally a wall of microtransactions in the mobile version, designed to keep players from playing too long for free. This is adjusted for in the Switch version by simply pummeling the player with an incredible amount of loot at the end of each level so you’re never prevented from proceeding. The side effect of this, however, is that the entire system feels pointless.
At the very least, Warplanes looks alright and runs well on Switch. Load times are quick and both planes and the environments are reasonably detailed for the small integrated screen on the Switch. When blown up onto a 4K television it does feel like you’re playing a phone game but not a particularly ugly one.
Warplanes: WW2 Dogfights is a perfect example of how not to port something to Switch and is somewhat damning to the mobile game environment in general. You cannot simply throw a freemium cell phone game on the eShop, break the progression system, and expect it to meet the expectations of that market. What passes for a game on a cell phone often comes in well below the bar of an dedicated game system.