SkyBlazer
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Ukiyotei
  • Publishers:
    • US Sony Imagesoft
    • JP Epic/Sony Records
    • UK Sony Imagesoft
  • Released:
    • US January 1994
    • JP 02/18/1994
    • UK 03/25/1994
Score: 80%

This review was published on 12/27/2015.

SkyBlazer is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Ukiyotei for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom. It was originally released in North America in January 1994, Japan on February 18, 1994, and Europe on March 25, 1994. The game was published in Japan by Epic/Sony Records and Sony Imagesoft in North America and Europe. This game isn't part of any major series or franchise; it's a completely standalone thing. As a result of that, not many people seem to know about this piece of interactive software. That's a right shame, because it's a pretty good game and therefore, deserves more fame. It doesn't necessarily do anything out of the ordinary, but what's there is fairly solid. You don't always have to reinvent the wheel to make a good game. One could say that this game's got game. By the way, the review is below this paragraph.

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Ashura, Lord of War, has conquered the Realm in the name of his unholy master, Raglan, Lord of Darkness and King of Destruction. As part of this wickedness, Ashura kidnaps a young sorceress named Arianna in order to force her to serve his dark master. It's up to the gallant warrior called SkyBlazer, also known as Sky, to save the day. That's you. Every so often, in between some stages, there will be dialogue sequences in which the hero converses with a wise old man. The banter between these two is sometimes humorous, because the old fart will often make fun of Sky for being such a delightful dandy. All the talk can be a bit long winded, though. There is a practical purpose behind some of these meetings, however, as the old man will also give you passwords to record your progress, since there's no save system in place. The story is a pretty basic case of good versus evil, but the old man's snarky dialogue adds some personality to the game's otherwise generic plot. More games should incorporate cynical old men into their stories.

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Everything in this game looks phenomenal. The art style is superb and the animations are freaking fantastic. Your character sprite in particular is very well animated, even while standing perfectly still. This is seen via the way in which Sky's clothes sway with the movement of his body, as if they're made of real fabric and not just mere pixels. The backgrounds and foregrounds also have amazing detail, and of course, there's a lot of impressive parallax scrolling to accompany them. An example of the wickedly good parallax scrolling is available right in the first stage, with a layer of moving clouds overhead. Because this is a Super Nintendo game, you can also expect to see some Mode-7 in the form of rotating objects and sprawling landscapes. The game is peppered with other neat visual tricks, too, such as revolving towers and the like. While there's more to this game than its good looks, the graphics are certainly one of its standout features, in that they stand out.

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As the mighty SkyBlazer, you have many powerful abilities at your disposal. This includes but is not limited to, walking a mighty strut, jumping an acrobatic jump, kneeling like a kneeler, walking while ducking, and swimming. You can even climb walls like the heroes of Contra III. Sadly, you can't climb the ceiling, though you can certainly admire it from a distance. When it comes to assaulting enemies, you mostly punch them to death, but you sometimes kick them, too. If you rapidly punch several times in a row, you'll do a simplistic combo that ends in a powerful kick, which is useful against enemies that take multiple hits. During a jump, Sky will do an aerial kick attack that's stronger than regular punches. He certainly doesn't pull any punches. Additionally, Sky has a life bar that gets upgraded as he makes progress on his quest. The controls feel really fluid, especially when performing jumps. There are some annoyances, though, as Sky has a tendency to stick to walls when you don't want to, and he's a bit slippery on the ground.

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Throughout his journey, Sky will obtain new magical abilities. This will happen after completing certain stages, which is a nice payoff for finishing them off. Normally, Sky can only hit things with his hands and feet in close quarters, but magic enables him to hit far away targets in addition to inflicting greater damage. Because magic is generally better than his standard attacks, every spell will take a different toll from Sky's magic meter, which can be replenished by collecting special vials dropped by enemies. The currently equipped spell can be swapped on the fly with the shoulder buttons and consist of things like ranged projectile blasts, lightning strikes that hit all enemies in the vicinity, time stopping magic that freezes all nearby foes, and even a healing spell. One spell also helps Sky get around by giving him the ability to do a midair dash. Magic is awfully handy, but it must be used smartly, or else you won't have any left to bust you out of a jam. This adds strategic depth to the game without overcomplicating things, making it a cool feature.

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In SkyBlazer, stages are divided up by a Mario 3 styled world map; the map starts off linear, but opens up a little more later on, allowing you to tackle stages in slightly nonlinear orders, or even skip some altogether. You can even sometimes revisit previously completed stages and exit them by pressing start and select, similar to Super Mario World. The individual stages themselves are usually linear, though some later ones are more maze-like. You can return to the old man's shrine to restore Sky's life meter, obtain additional passwords, and get a refresher on the plot in the event that you actually care about that. Besides getting extra lives, there's not much of a reason to go back to a beaten stage, but having the option is always nice. Unfortunately, you can't return to previous stages that are on different continents, but some is better than none.

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Despite being called SkyBlazer, most of this game is spent on the ground. The stage design in this game revolves heavily around fighting enemies and traversing dangerous terrain. Being able to climb just about any vertical surface makes the stage design more engaging, as it increases the available options when approaching hazardous situations. Many stages contain interesting gimmicks, like a forest area where you can climb the trees by jumping through the leaves, a ship assaulted by deadly tidal waves you avoid by clinging onto its hull, a fortress comprised of gusts of wind that propel you upwards, or structures with moving walls that try to crush you. Some of the gimmicks do get overused, though, like the wall crushing thing. The aforementioned maze-like stages can also be frustrating, what with their confusing layouts. The underwater temple stage is particularly bad in this respect, which may trigger post-traumatic stress disorder in those who suffered through the water temple dungeon in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. Barring irritating water levels, most of SkyBlazer's other stages are swell.

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Learn to blaze the skies in SkyBlazer. The game's title doesn't lie; you do take to the skies at certain points during your journey, even if those points don't come up often. In certain stages, Sky will sprout wings and gain the ability to fly, oh my! When in flight, Sky will also get the ability to shoot projectiles out of his fist at no cost to his magic meter, which would have been pretty handy to have on the ground. Anyway, the flight stages will automatically scroll the screen around, forcing you to keep moving headlong into enemy forces. Other than that, they're not too different from the regular stages. The only problematic thing about the flight segments is the way they control; instead of using the d-pad to move up and down, you press the jump button to gain elevation, and let go to lose altitude. That's a little awkward to handle, especially since there's a slight delay. Also, the firing rate of Sky's attack is pretty slow. In other words, don't go into this expecting the accuracy and speed of a Gradius shooter.

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Bonus stages are few and far between, but this game has them nonetheless. Whenever Sky travels between major landmasses, there will usually be a bonus stage. These are also flight stages that take place in the sky, but unlike the regular ones, these have a different perspective. In the bonus stages, you get a behind-the-back view of Sky as he flies forward across the Mode-7 rendered landscape. Your objective during bonus stages is to collect as many diamonds as possible while avoiding spiky balls. The diamonds can also be found during normal stages and act like the coins from Super Mario, meaning you get an extra life for collecting 100 of them. Running into a spiky sphere will cut the bonus stage short, but there are no consequences for failing them other than missing out on potential 1ups. Because the stakes are low, the bonus stages provide a nice break from the trials and tribulations of the main adventure.

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Bosses are bad and they may make you mad. Actually, the bosses in this game are pretty decent. Most major stages end with a boss fight, so there are a fair amount of monsters to mash. The bosses in this game are fairly challenging, especially if you just rush in without a strategy. Even the early bosses can be troublesome if you're careless. They never feel unfair, though. A few of the bosses are also unique, like a genie that you hurt by attacking its lamp, an eyeball monster that rolls around the room and gets bigger each time you hit it, and a giant wall beast that spins around and you have to fit through its small holes to avoid damage, kind of like that Hole in the Wall game show. Some of the bosses are lame, though, like an underwater creature that does nothing but spit fish at you. There's also a lazy boss rush near the end of the game. While the bosses may be good, they're not good enough to fight a second time around.

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Set the skies ablaze with SkyBlazer. Graphically, the game is superb, and it has good game play to back it up. The controls are buttery smooth, the mechanics have enough depth without being inaccessible, magic is neat, the boss fights are good, the nonlinear world map is dandy, and being able to backtrack to old levels is unnecessary, but still greatly appreciated. There's not much that this game does wrong, aside from the confusing stage layouts later on and the mediocre flight sections. If you have yet to blaze the skies, then now's a good time to give it a try.

Word Count: 1,840

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