Occasionally, in-between the hustle and bustle of prime AAA titles, one needs a simple escape. Side-scrolling action, colorful presentation, and a straightforward premise of breaking and bouncing. Sky Racket is a game I knew I wanted to review right off the bat (racket?). Spending a decent chunk of my youth devouring arcades and play areas, adorned with the bright lights of every color and a noisiness befitting the rambunctious energy, it was an obvious choice. Combined with the potential of blending two classic formulas together, this made for an intriguing quality test.
What would become the ultimate assessment is whether I’d care once all has finished. My experience with arcade-styled games has generally been positive, yet in a sort of empty pile of superlatives for a game’s craft, rather than its impact on me. Much of this stems from the lack of an intriguing story, as the genre seems to find such things undesirable. To many, this is a moot point, but without any sort of emotional connection, a game’s mechanics have to be stupendous to make up for it. Sky Racket would have to reach further than the sky to appease this scrutinized necessity.
Sky Racket is available via Steam for your regional pricing.
And thus, a quick response to the implied question: the story is lackluster. As illustrated by an opening cutscene, an evil figure has taken a God-like figure away in an effort to grasp its power (probably). It’s up to RacketBoy or RacketGirl to save the universe. One interesting note, however, is that this is based on a true story. Outside said cutscene and the synopsis found on Steam, the in-game material does little to further explain the situation. Some collectible “buddies” one finds within the game will speak to RacketBoy/Girl about their respective planet’s situation, but nothing more. All else is to be implied with the general layout and baddies faced along the way. An expected, though unfortunate turn of events, especially after such an impressive visual opening.
While overall presentation will be saved for a later section, there is some effort in displaying visual cues leading to narrative progression. Short in-game cutscenes following boss fights, pathways leading to other planets, and little ominous sparks that eventually unveil a bigger threat—all meticulously placed to create a world setting. While the general story is dull, I appreciated the effort taken in bringing the setting(s) to life, even if minimally. There’s a lot to consider with this review, and Sky Racket ensured that anyone could see the effect of the player’s actions.
With the expectations placed on the narrative plummeted, it becomes the gameplay’s duty to completely upend my expectations. In short, it didn’t, but that doesn’t mean its wholly uninspired—just the opposite. The game’s mechanics are not impressive initially, when it still feels the need to cozy the player into it. Once again, patience becomes the key, and the later segments of the game grew more impressive in its implementation. To nutshell it, the player is required to pound incoming bullets back at enemies in a Pong-styled manner of back-and-forth. With giant hoards of enemies in the foreground, it becomes more chaotic as the bullet becomes faster and harder to hit while also accounting for dodging.
What I find to be the biggest issue with the game is that it’s too slow. Combining block-breaking with shoot-’em-up is an intriguing idea, but it tends to lose some of the spirit of both genres. The frenetic energy of shoot-’em-ups and the precision and strategy attributed to block-breakers are rarely implemented to their potential. In later stages (composed of four worlds with two stages and a boss each), there’s some interesting additions to the formula that make it more enjoyable (such as pinball), and is where most of my enjoyment resided. Before I knew it, though, the final boss arrived… and the penultimate boss.
This is a somewhat self-indulgent portion of the review, but Sky Racket has a boss named Tennistar. This boss is one of the most obnoxious difficulty spikes I’ve ever encountered in a game, especially recently. For context, this title is not especially difficult, and I only died once prior to Tennistar. When faced with Tennistar, it took me 40+ attempts to beat it. His battle is the largest ode to Pong among the entire game, and the amount of freedom the developers gave to him to make the battle absurdly unfair is near-equivalent to early Mortal Kombat Shao Kahn fights (which it might be referencing with Tennistar, based on audio clips). And it’s not even the final boss! One game following the red giant from Outbuddies, I have yet another boss encounter that scarred me. To Double Dash Studios: please nerf.
Despite some underwhelming tendencies, Sky Racket ends up becoming more entertaining as one adjusts to the higher skillset. Replaying some of the earlier stages after completing the game has given me a newer appreciation for its intention. Individual challenges placed on each stage is an enticing way of getting acclimated to the game, emphasized after beating the story once. I only wish the developers continued to find new ways to make things more energetic. The later stages are a thrilling possibility for what could be done with the game with further creativity.
Polish is something that some games don’t have nearly enough of. Many AAA companies have been under fire recently for releasing games that aren’t quite finished while still listing them at full retail price. One cannot say that here, as Sky Racket made many internal reviews of itself to eradicate all bugs. Running (flying?) like a breeze, skip-free and consistently smooth, it’s one of the best-running games I’ve played for review. Even with Tennistar destroying me over and over, I blamed the bastard’s capabilities and not the game’s quality. Totally fair and likely intensely tested, one could play it throughout the universe.
Graphics & Audio
Let’s go back in time, to about four minutes ago where you (hopefully) read the first paragraph of this review of Sky Racket. The light and sounds of the arcade, almost bouncy in its visual and auditory capacity. Such a relaxing, nostalgic coat of color that transports many players to the time before. This game, with developers that understand this feeling, implemented it to near-perfection. At many points during my playthrough, I thought to myself, “This reminds me a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog.” Sliding screens with large, bold text; lots of colorful worlds, cute and cuddly creatures, and tons of weird stuff. Vibrant is almost an understatement. And while I’d consider the pixel artistry good but not great, it heavily reflects the arcade aesthetic that makes the adventure more charming. It also helps when the game doesn’t take itself that seriously and drops a ton of weird shenanigans for no reason.
Even with its audio, which I normally find forgettable with arcade-styled titles, I can only commend it. Sky Racket contains a nice assortment of level/boss tracks that bring out a lot of fervor. Even if not totally head-banging, it highlights a distinct focus on upbeat, arcade-styled musings that keep up with the atmosphere. Again, Sonic the Hedgehog comes to mind when I listen to the soundtrack, if only for its intensity. Adding memorability to a title with an already notable distinction of genre-crossing, it almost fits the arcade style to the bill.