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Review: Sky Racket (Nintendo Switch)By Nayu At 06.08.2022 07:13

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The Sega Mega Drive was to shoot 'em ups what the Super Nintendo was for JRPGs. Perhaps shmups weren't the lifeblood of the Mega Drive in the same way JRPGs were for the SNES, but it's hard to ignore two universal truths about Sega's 16-bit console: the superiority of the Mega Drive's shmups in comparison to the SNES's, and their sheer quality. As far as 16-bit shmups go, the Sega Mega Drive is only rivalled by the PC-Engine in quality.

A deliberate homage to the shoot 'em up genre, as it was during the 16-bit era, Sky Racket has much in common with its Sega Mega Drive predecessors - from its short campaign, to its arcade-like emphasis on replay value. As expected from a shmup, this is a title meant to be played until mastery, and requires both diligence as well as a desire to regularly return to. The majority of gameplay scenarios are tied to optional challenges. For a genre that already encourages replay value inherently, this is a nice way of pushing genre newcomers into the proverbial deep end.

Of course, it should be noted how much of an influence Breakout is; the 1976 arcade game by Apple that created the brick breaker genre. In these titles, gameplay usually consists of players moving a paddle that shoots a moving ball into blocks. The goal is to keep the ball in play without passing the paddle (think Football) while breaking all the blocks. Sky Racket co-ops this gameplay loop by giving Rocketboy and Rocketgirl rackets which they can use to strike specific projectiles at enemies or obstacles.

To make up for the fact that players no longer need to keep a ball perpetually in play, Rocketboy and Rocketgirl instead take damage. Both start each stage with three hearts, typically losing half a heart when hit. Getting hit by enemy fire naturally drains health, but the fact that certain shots can be countered (colour coded as orange and then blue when struck) means that the Rockets need to be in the line of fire more often than not.

Combating this non-stop danger is a quick roll that allows Rocketboy or Rocketgirl to zip around each stage so long as the B button is held down. Pressing Y while rolling will even trigger a swift strike of the racket, allowing anyone who masters the art of rolling to seamlessly weave in and out of danger. Since enemies can only be damaged by countering shots into them, this becomes an especially useful skill to master.

While the early stages are kind enough to go easy on newcomers, bullet hell chaos starts to manifest come the second boss fight. Along with shots that can be knocked back at enemies, bosses (and mini-bosses) often summon animals that latch onto players and slow them down if they're not outright dealing damage. Reflectively quick-rolling to avoid an onslaught of fire can result in the Rockets rolling right into a trap, losing their mobility and hearts in the process. Thankfully, the title's strong art direction and colour coding makes it so little is lost to visual clutter.

The difficulty curve only rises from there, but considering how few stages there are, this isn't a bad thing. The buddy system also helps ease some of the challenge. Each world has their own unique Buddy that the Rockets can find. Once found in a stage, pressing A will trigger their Buddy Ability - whether that's firing multiple bullets on-screen, or doing a sweep attack of the surrounding area. Best of all, Buddies will take one hit for the player in lieu of a heart.

It's also possible to play through the entire main game, challenges and all, with a partner. Co-op works remarkably well for a shoot 'em up with brick breaking sensibilities. There's naturally more to pay attention to on-screen at any given time, but being able to racket bullets back and forth between two players at once is a treat. Multiplayer also shines a spotlight on how fair the overall design is. Everything's just daunting enough where a single player will struggle, while two players can have a comfortable time making their way through the campaign. A few more bosses and stages would have done the title some good, but as is, Sky Racket scratches a 16-bit itch longing for the shooter genre.

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Final Score
Short, sweet, and essentially a Sega Mega Drive shoot 'em up developed for modern audiences, [i]Sky Racket[/i] is a fantastic throwback to 16-bit gaming. Emphasising mechanical mastery and pattern memorisation, the core design is philosophically in-line with the era it's throwing back to - a sight for sore eyes, considering so many indies never take their inspiration beyond the surface level. The main campaign admittedly could have benefited from more stages, but optional challenges and multiplayer do add replay value. With a title as strong as [i]Sky Racket[/i] opening its gameography, Double Dash Studios has a bright future ahead of it.

7

/10

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