• Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Macross: Flying 4th Generation Fighters Against Futuristic Mecha

Updated: 4 days ago

Two games from the Macross series let stubborn fighter jocks fly fixed-wing fighters against futuristic transforming robots.


F-14 Tomcats entering battle (Macross Zero).

Macross is a long-running anime series that features robots that can transform into fixed-wing fighters. Whether you know them from the original show in 1982, the overseas adaptation known as Robotech, or the recent stint of official Macross movies appearing in theaters in 2022, it's hard to deny the appeal of something as futuristic as a robot that transforms into a high-speed. A somewhat well known scene from Macross Zero, a prequel OVA to the original series, shows F-14 Tomcats in a close-range dogfight with MiG-29 Fulcrums. This decently done scene leads to the F-14s being decimated by one of the first operational models of the transforming robots, formally known as "variable fighters."


The entire opening of Macross Zero was designed to show how variable fighters could easily defeat high-performance fixed-wing fighters. The point was to show how this new technology being used by humanity makes what we believe are our best machines obsolete. But let the record show that one of the Tomcats almost got a gun kill on that fancy variable fighter! Among Macross fans, that's a point that is regularly brought up when talking about that scene. It's this train of thought that led me to write this article.


Two Macross games from the PlayStation Portable allow fixed-wing fighter jocks to keep stubbornly flying their atmospheric fighters. Macross Ultimate Frontier (2009) and Macross Triangle Frontier (2011) are games that compile single-player campaigns based on the various Macross OVAs, TV shows, and movies with original missions and online multiplayer functionality. Their inclusion also brings some of the vehicles seen in Macross Zero, like the F-14 Tomcat (Type-14) and MiG-29 Fulcrum (Type 29).



It's important to note that these are "atmospheric" fighters, i.e., they need some atmosphere to operate in. Any mission set in space will not let players select these aircraft. Still, oddly enough, it is possible to fly missions that happen inside massive spaceships - the technicality being that they do have an atmosphere. The inability to use these aircraft in space missions means a pure play-through of each single-player campaign with earthbound fixed-wing fighters is impossible. You won't be engaging in space combat with your F-14 - this isn't Airforce Delta Strike - but you could turn and burn in a MiG-29 on a planet halfway across the Milky Way Galaxy in the year 2059.


Flying inside a space cruiser. What could go wrong?

Players will be fighting against variable fighters with energy defense systems, alien bioweapons with laser cannons on their backs, and even a semi-mythical weapon left behind by the creators of the human race. That's a lot for a humble twin-engined jet fighter to deal with. Now, of course, none of the Macross games are flight simulators. You could say they barely qualify as a flight arcade since the games are built around the premise that players will be transforming their vehicles between multiple configurations. Hovering like a helicopter while firing a cannon or being in a humanoid form while taking cover behind terrain is two-thirds of the gameplay.


MiG-29 flying past four alien mechs.

Players can enable Real Flight Controls to get a more traditional heads-up display and flight controls you'd expect from a flight arcade title. Still, the game is clearly designed to utilize the capabilities of variable fighters Macross has staked its identity on. The only way a fixed-wing fighter-focused playthrough could be done is by modifying their performance with in-game tuning points. An emphasis on aircraft top speed, acceleration, missile striking distance, and missile power is needed to get through the middle levels of each campaign. When enemies can instantly come to a stop by transforming, then fire at a player's jet while remaining inside its turn radius, players will quickly learn that hit-and-run slashing attacks will be their greatest asset. I discussed this in much more detail in an article about Real Flight Controls in Macross Games, see that for more information.


MiG-29 investigating a space ship.

The F-14s and MiG-29s have no energy weapons, energy shielding, the ability to destroy missiles in flight, or anything similar to the future technology they are up against. Missile barrages, cannons, chaff, flares, and high speed are their primary weapons. Though a "special move" called the V-Formation can be activated, it's nothing more than calling in two NPC wingmen to increase firepower by having all three aircraft attack the same target.


Formation of F-14s evading a Macross-class warship.

Frankly, bringing fighter jets from pre-alien space war Earth to battle neck snappingly fast aliens somewhere across the galaxy can be as frustrating as you think it would be. Patiently dashing in and gradually chipping away at enemies and investing every hardware tuning point you get can feel like a deep grind. But on the other hand, you can't help but chuckle whenever you find victory in these absurd situations.

 

About the Writer

Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.

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