Yes, space combat can be done on the Game Boy Advance, but with how much success? Well, Raylight Studios certainly seems to think it can be done, as the developer has taken as much of the concept of the original PC Wing Commander as possible and squeezed it into everyone's favourite diminutive console.
Despite the game's best efforts to convince us otherwise, Wing Commander Prophecy's storyline is largely unimportant. You are stationed as a rookie pilot aboard a large carrier called the Midway, which comes under threat from a previously unknown alien race known as the Nephilim. The game's plot revolves around finding out as much as possible about the new threat, and making various vain attempts at getting shot of them. The plot is played out through an absolutely mind-numbing amount of text, recalling the FMV dialogue from the PC version down to the letter. Much of this banter is completely unnecessary, doing little to advance what could be otherwise interesting dialogue and forcing the player to skip through all of it just to get to the action.
Prophecy boasts some 48 missions to plough through, but much of the game focuses on a very basic routine: fly out of big ship, shoot smaller ships down before they shoot you, return to big ship. There is little deviation from this routine save extended missions in which you need to knock back different waves of enemies in succession before being able to return to the Midway, or missions in which you need to get shot of opposition within a time limit. We'd just like to get this out of way now: putting time limits in space combat games should be punishable. It's a terrible attempt at creating tension in a tensionless environment, and only serves as a bloody irritating frustration instead of an enjoyable challenge.
Out of control
The fact that you need to smoothly rotate through 360 degrees with fine control and accuracy to prove even remotely successful at hunting your foe in space gives Prophecy a nice kind of 'Christ, this is impossible on a tiny little four-way D-pad' atmosphere, as you patiently wrangle the GBA or SP in your hands and overshoot your aim for the umpteenth time. It also gives you cramp. No, the controls aren't Prophecy's strong point at all, with some frankly annoying button combinations hampering your attempts to, say, chase after an enemy ship and switch weapons, as the commands for doing both of these things are linked to the same buttons.
Getting some kind of smoothness in the action is impossible - you'll find yourself twitching through space as you attempt to keep your enemy in the reticule. Couple the tricky controls with an evil learning curve that expects you to learn the vagaries of piloting and combat within two or three missions, and you're left with a distinctly teeth-grinding, hair-pulling, GBA-stomping experience most of the time.
The above said, Raylight has done a sterling job of getting the textured polygonal space of 1997 moving inside the GBA, and combat is usually pretty fluid with a few ships darting about the screen. The only times the engine appears to struggle is when the larger carriers and motherships come into view, but even then the game remains quite playable, control issues notwithstanding.
You start to get the feeling, though, that the game has been built around the technology, and not the other way round. The lack of variety from one stage to the next begins to grate, and the sheer frustration of the irritating control scheme will see you turning off and throwing down your GBA in a hail of frustration and profanity to rival Rusedski on a bad day [I'll bear witness to that -Ed]. While there are a vast number of levels for space combat fans to delve into, how long you're willing to stick it out is a matter of patience.
We weren't particularly sure this was a genre that could be pulled off at all well on the GBA for the very reasons that have been outlined above. Wing Commander Prophecy is at times a wonderful effort and a tremendous tech demo that kept us entertained for all of a couple of hours, but that's all it eventually feels like - a tech demo. As a game, it's woefully shallow and it left us wanting something more.