Some of the fondest memories I have as a child are when my parents would take me to the arcade and I could in those massive machines where it would feel like I was an actual pilot or racecar driver, using a realistic set of controls to get the highest score possible. It’s a type of experience that is dying out.
That’s where Sky Rogue from Fractal Phase enters the picture. This game puts you in the pilot’s chair as you are assigned various missions that will entail dogfights, bombing runs, and aileron rolls. Featuring a simplistic art style and game structure, it hopes to re-capture the magic of playing games at the arcade. Does it succeed?
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
Sky Rogue wastes no time throwing you into the action. After going through a brief and effective tutorial, you’re immediately thrust into your first mission. From the opening moments, it’s clear how the game plays out. It is separated into levels, with each having a random target that you must destroy while avoiding other hazards like enemy drones or anti-air guns.
While you’re flying through the sky, there are many buildings and a few enemies on the ground that you have the option to destroy. You can end the level once you destroy the target, or you can destroy everything in sight and get more money for your effort. This cash can then be spent on upgrades in between each level to buff up your ship as the game starts to get significantly harder. While clearing the levels of all objects isn’t the most fun activity in the game, the money is well worth it in the late game.
The way the game is set up, each level is randomized with a different objective and enemies to fight. Obviously, it’s a rogue-like. You’ll be doing runs through several levels. Die once and you have to start all the way back at the beginning. Furthermore, the game taunts you by having a progress bar that goes up every time you finish a level, making me extremely curious about the end (I never did see the end though, because the game puts up a fight the farther you get into it).
I have to be honest, there are pros and cons with this approach. On the one hand, I like the variation that Sky Rogue has in its levels and I like the challenge of trying to get all the way to the very end. On the other hand, there isn’t enough variety with the enemies to truly justify having a randomized approach (the game can become a slog when you’re running through beginning levels over and over). If you get stuck in the first few levels, you’ll quickly notice that the game doesn’t have a lot of enemies and objects to choose from.
We’re Going Down!
With my main criticisms of the game out of the way, I have to take the time to praise how Sky Rogue controls. Fractal Phase managed to capture the feeling of flying an airplane like you would in a classic arcade game. The controls are intuitive and they respond extremely well. Switching through four weapons can get irritating, but that’s a minor complaint when it feels so good to fly around and engage in dogfights.
For the Nintendo Switch version, Fractal Phase also managed to add in motion controls that can be used with split Joy-Con. I have to say, I was impressed with how well it worked and how smartly it was designed. While it won’t replace using a controller, there’s a lot of novelty with how the motion controls work that I think a lot of people will enjoy.
On top of the standard mode, Sky Rogue includes a free flight, endless, and multiplayer mode. The first two are just everything that you’d expect, but it’s the multiplayer that really blew me away. The game suddenly doesn’t seem so repetitive when you’re flying around with a partner. When I played with my dad, he would tackle the objective while I would shoot down the bogeys that tried to destroy his ship. There’s a level of communication needed to play the game with another person, and that allowed the multiplayer to be surprisingly strong to me.
Sky Rogue is lovingly imitating games from the arcade, but it doesn’t just do that in its control scheme and simple play style. It also has the graphics and sound design to back it up. The graphics are filled with saturated colors and polygonal models. It’s not a visually astounding game, but the art style is pleasing to the eye.
When discussing the sound, Fractal Phase knocked it out of the park there as well. The music, while reused for each few sets of levels, was quite catchy and fit the game perfectly. If you decide to get the soundtrack for this one, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Sky Rogue was provided by Fractal Phase.