Review by Psycho Penguin
"If you be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal."
The NES had a wide variety of games released over the years. It is my opinion that no system out there could ever match the wide variety of games released for it. Captain Skyhawk is one example of this. It may seem like an ordinary vertical scrolling shooter, but once you sit down and actually play it and get deeper and deeper into the game, you will discover that looks can indeed be quite deceiving. This is totally unlike mostly any shooter released during the timeframe. Each mission is different, and therefore the game has this unique feel to it. Plus, the graphics are quite detailed and interesting looking for a NES game. There's so much to like about Captain Skyhawk, and it all circles around a little word that's been lost in today's society: Originality.
The story in Captain Skyhawk is one of the most original elements of the game, in my opinion. You are a pilot who is sent to rid the world of aliens. You see, these pesky aliens decided to come to earth to destroy it. However, they did not realize that Earth has tons of energy, and therefore it takes a long time to actually destroy the planet. They, quite intelligently, set up four space stations across the world, which act as energy suckers. They get stronger as Earth gets weaker, basically. Your job is to destroy these space stations before they destroy us. Very original and thought out storyline, one that had rarely been seen around this time. Sure, it's about aliens, but the detail that goes into the story, and the story itself, is quite phenomenal, and one of the better storylines of its generation.
Once you get into the game, you will find it to be one of the better-playing shooters of all time, as well. Each stage seems to be the same at first: you scroll veritcally, shooting enemies and collecting powerups. The isometric view of the game is quite neat, but can prove to be very frustrating at first. Handling the bumps in the path can prove to be the most challenging part of the game, as mountains are sometimes higher than normal, and you have to fly over them to avoid a sure death. This was one of the more unique parts of Captain Skyhawk, as not only did enemies want to kill you, but you also had to avoid mountains and other scenery. I especially liked the parts in the game where you had to squeeze in between mountains while continuing to kill enemies.
But don't think these enemies will give you an easy time, either. Mountains are not the only dangerous adversary you must face, as the enemies in Captain Skyhawk are the strangest, but also most dangerous, enemies ever placed in a shooting game. Some enemies fly right and left shooting at you, while others lay close to the ground. You have to manuever your plane up and down many times to kill all the enemies, and therefore the game becomes even more of a challenge. Some of the enemies got quite massive, especially the bosses, which are definitely the most challenging enemies in the entire game. This is not one of those games with short levels, easy enemies, and laughable bosses, I assure you.
If vertical scrolling isn't your thing, you also get to control your plane in a quasi-3D view at some points during the game. For veterans of flight simulators, you should feel right at home. However, there's not a terrible learning curve for those new to the genre. You just have to move up and down while avoiding missiles that the planes shoot at you, and you also have to shoot them down. This is one of the most fun aspects of the game, because it provides a nice and refreshing challenge from the doldrums of vertical shooting for 9 levels straight. After you do this, you have to land your ship onto the landing dock. Fans of the Top Gun series of video games should feel right at home with this, although for newbies it could prove to be a little difficult. You have to align yourself perfectly with the landing dock in a certain amount of time. Once you do so, you can then use points you get to buy new weapons and items.
The stages also flow in a logical order. Unlike some other shooters, where you just go from one level to the next, each mission in Captain Skyhawk as their own idea and objective behind it. Instead of just killing enemies, killing a boss, and then moving onto the next stage, you have to kill four space stations. Along the way, you have to build a secret space cannon that will neutralize the final space station. To do so, you have to deliver supplies and then rescue a scientist who will give you the special weapon. Each stage revolves around one of three objectives. The first is to destroy a space station, the second is to deliver supplies, and the third is to rescue a scientist. You get nine stages in all, and you have to do the first objective 4 times, the second objective twice, and the third objective twice, before meeting up with the final space station in a winner-gets-all battle to the death. The variety of stages is not the best in the world, but it was a nice added touch from the fine folks at Rare.
Fortunately, the game also controls quite well. It has some basic flaws, and it's not the best control in the world, but it's not too horrible. Moving your fighter ship around is pretty easy, but performing barrel rolls requires you to push select and then the direction in which you wish to do so. This feels very uncomfortable and can prove to be quite annoying. Also, you get two types of missiles, and you only get one button to push them. Sooner or later, you're going to drop the wrong one. You can't even drop missiles in the stages in which you have to drop supplies, because that button is used to drop the supplies instead of the missiles. Despite these flaws, the controls are still pretty good. It's easy to shoot, and it's easy to move, and you won't find yourself blaming the controls too much for an untimely death.
Is it just me, or did Rare use the same isometric 3/4 view in most of their NES games to create a 3D view? Marble Madness and Snake Rattle and Roll are now joined by Captain Skyhawk in the ''unique style'' of graphics club. These graphics are quite good on their own merit, though. The backgrounds during normal stages are quite good and will prove to never be too distracting despite their colors. I especially liked the variety of stage designs, as you'll eventually go from a pink crater to the yellow sands of a desert-like area. The enemy designs are equally impressive, as they are quite detailed and very well varied. I especially liked the little orange ball that scrolled left and right.. just kidding. They were at least unique, though, and they never repeated themselves too much. The graphics in the second parts of the stage were also fine, but not as good as the first parts of the stage. It was sometimes hard to see planes coming at you, and there's some graphical breakup. There's also slowdown in the vertical portions of the stages, but it never proves to be too bad.
One of the big myths that I have read in most reviews is that Captain Skyhawk has a lot of bad music. That's not true, at all. The game does have its share of bad music, but you don't even hear music for most of the game. When you do hear music, it's a mixture of bad tunes that sound too scratchy and good tunes that are melodic and unique. Most of the stages have no music, though, and rely solely on sound effects to get the job done. And the sound effects are actually pretty good, especially for a NES game. There's certainly a variety of them, ranging from your plane charging to fly up, to enemies crashing and exploding. You will definitely enjoy the wide variety of unique sound effects Captain Skyhawk employs.
And Captain Skyhawk can prove to be quite a challenging game over time. When I was a kid, I never came close to beating this game. I recently finally completed this game (and was so happy I decided to do this review and an upcoming guide for it), and I was proud of myself. This is one of the more challenging games on the NES in my eyes. I'm sure veterans of shooters will yawn their way through it, but I always had problems, especially with some of the later stages. The enemies move fast, and judging the terrain can prove to be the most challenging part of the game. The bosses could get annoying, and finding scientists and delivering supplies was always harder than usual. If you missed the supplies, you'd have to go through the stage again just to deliver them at the same point again. It could prove to be quite long and frustrating, and the limited amount of continues certainly won't help your cause any.
You will find a lot to enjoy with Captain Skyhawk, in fact. The challenge level of the game certainly increases its replay value, in fact, because you will want to come back to it again and again in an attempt to beat it. That's the way it always was for me, in fact. Even once you do complete it, one fact becomes pretty obvious. It's one of the most replayable shooters of all time. Not because of the shooting action, but because of the unique style the game has. It's not the typical shooting game. Instead of just going from one short stage to the next with no rhyme or reason, every stage makes a point here, and the stages are long and varied. Each challenge is logical and will provide a good challenge, and this makes the game replayable as hell. Plus, it implements a high score system that lets you try to beat your own high score. This makes it even more replayable in my eyes, especially since I am a big fan of trying to get high scores.
Captain Skyhawk is one of the most original shooting games out there, and it's also one of the best. Rare was known to take big risks back then, and this is yet another example. I do wish this Rare would come back, as some of their newer games are not that original at all. This represents a time when game companies weren't afraid to try something new, because they could get away with it. This is one of the best shooters ever, and the only reason I won't give it a 10/10 is because the controls could prove to be a bit of a problem, and that the 3D view stages could prove to be a little annoying and takes away a little from the awesome vertical scrolling stages of the game. It is quite an original and varied game, as it took the best of both worlds and made it into a terrific game with fast paced shooting action, flight simulation, and mission-based levels which fit in with the storyline perfectly.
They just don't make them like this any more.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/05/03, Updated 07/05/03
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