By Eric Pankoke on Tue, 03/08/2011
I love scrolling shooters, I’ve reviewed quite a few of them over time, and I often find myself commenting on how I wish the developers would go back and play 1942 to get a basic feel for how a scrolling shooter should play out. I’m not sure where the developers of Sky Combat got their inspiration, but they certainly hit the mark. This game has formations, it has level design, and it’s actually challenging without succumbing to the “bullet hell” gimmick. I’m not saying it’s perfect – not even 1942 was perfect – but this is definitely one of the best scrolling shooters I’ve played on my iPod Touch. Take note, Capcom: this is the game First Strike should have been.
There might be a basic “save the world” plot in here somewhere, but I’m finding more and more that unless there’s something specific in the missions that requires some background, a plot in a scrolling shooter is about as meaningful as one in most FPS games. What you really need to know is that there is a lot of stuff that needs to be destroyed, and it is up to you to do it. There are 8 missions altogether, and each one requires you to destroy a certain percentage of the enemy to pass on to the next one. In easy mode the requirement seems to have topped at 85% so far, which actually sounded like a lot at first, but meeting that cap hasn’t been too difficult. If anything, you’ll die long before you reach the end of the stage without meeting your goal.
While you won’t really encounter anything new in terms of enemies, there is certainly a nice variety of foes to defeat. Helicopters, tanks and boats of various shapes and sizes will try and take you out before you can get them. Each level also has an end boss that takes many hits over multiple stages to kill. Again there’s nothing new, but it’s traditional in a good way. What’s nice about the whole setup is that everything is laid out in such a way that the enemies can be challenging without having to resort to filling the screen with bullets. I have nothing against “bullet hell” style games, but it’s nice to know that solid shooters can exist that don’t employ that technique. I also it was interesting that while on helicopter levels all you have to worry about are enemies and their bullets, on tank and humvee levels you need to concern yourself with the terrain as well. Rouge land masses can and will kill you.
Sky Combat has a nice variety of controls with which to play the game. When you’re flying the helicopter you can choose one of two sensitivities in regards to moving the vehicle with your finger, you can opt for a virtual joystick, or you can tilt to move the bird. When controlling the humvee or boat you have either a virtual steering wheel or you can tilt the device. So far I prefer direct finger control for the helicopter, though I haven’t quite settled on a favorite option for the other vehicles yet.
Regardless of vehicle you have an auto-fire cannon and three special weapons: rockets, anti-missile EMPs, and air strikes. Rockets are fired via a button or double clicking the screen. EMPs and air strikes also have both buttons and device-related movements, but I usually use the buttons since shaking the device in a game like this can be disruptive. The helicopter also has an evade ability which has unlimited use but must be recharged every time. All other special weapons require ammunition that you find on the battlefield. There are also med-kits to heal your damage, but don’t expect to come across those very often.
The game is visually quite stunning. It’s not necessarily the best looking fighter on the market, but it comes pretty close. The vehicles all look familiar yet at the same time are nicely rendered. The backdrops are gorgeous, especially when it comes to the water levels. This definitely has some of the best wave effects I’ve seen in a top down game. There are nice particle and shading effects, and I always love it when you get to watch the smoldering remains of the tanks you’ve destroyed as you pass by them. The one thing I would like to have seen a bit more of is weather effects, but I guess you can’t have everything. The sound effects are good, but they are pretty typical for this style of game. I really like the music, but unfortunately there is only one track in the game. It would have been nice if they had switched things up at least a couple times throughout the campaign mode.
Overall Sky Combat is a very solid scrolling shooter. In many ways it’s a “been there, done that”, but very much to its credit it’s a “done that right”. The game play is vintage shooter action, the visuals are top notch, and the music is good, if lacking a bit in variety. I love the fact that you switch between vehicles over the course of the levels, though I do wish the controls for the boat and humvee worked as well as the helicopter. Still, there’s a lot to love about this game, and not a whole lot to criticize. This is definitely worthy of your attention if you’re a scrolling shooter fan, and might be a good place to start if you’re not.
Overall Score: 9/10
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