Title  : Skygunner
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher  : Atlus
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 7.2
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Not every flying game need be a Top Gun. But the alternative isn't for everyone, either. Fly the offbeat skies in the PlayStation 2 game, SkyGunner. 

These skies are not ones of F14 Tomcats and heat-seeking missiles, but colorful caricatures and impossible airships. The pirate Ventre seeks to steal the Eternal Engine, a machine capable of perpetual motion. It's up to the adventurous pilots known as the SkyGunners to protect it. 

SkyGunner's Japanese origin is evident in both its art and character styles. Between levels, the storyline is developed in slowly-progressing comic book panels, forcing gamers to endure the fixed pace. At boot time, either Japanese or English spoken dialogue can be chosen — but loading a saved game will reset to whichever option was chosen for that saved data. The only way to switch languages is not only to reboot, but to restart from level one. 

Once the options are set and a training mode complete, gamers are launched to do battle with the wicked Ventre and his minions. The gameplay is not altogether different from Star Wars Rogue Leader, where squads of enemies must be defeated or allied ships protected. Novice gamers will fall into a routine of strafing runs, followed by quick retreats and 180-degree turns. This practice may finish the level, but it won't earn any rewards. 

A complex scoring system introduces an element of strategy into the game. Targeting specific enemies can cause high-scoring explosions that will eliminate entire squadrons and gun batteries. Considering this element in the heat of battle is difficult, though, and is further unaided by the control scheme. 

Whereas most flying games provide a variety of camera angles, including from the cockpit, SkyGunner sets the pilot as secondary to the target. The camera is always locked on the enemy, not the hero, and no matter the dive, climb, or barrel roll, the player, if not his plane, will always be focused in that direction. 

The controls allow many different ways to lock onto an enemy. The R2 button switches between units, while Triangle alternates between enemies in a unit. It is confusing to determine exactly which enemy in which unit should be targeted, and then to do so. And since the camera doesn't point in the same direction as the player is flying, potential targets are often limited to whatever the game feels like showing the player. 

What is shown is bright and vibrant, depicting a full world through which to fly. Air battles in various weathers, as well as strikes against ground and sea units, must be endured. The potential blankness of a blue sky or ocean background is relieved with lightning storms, lighthouses, and cityscapes. Many gauges and other information litter the screen, periodically joined by speech balloons and environmental descriptions. Though powerful warships can fill the screen, drawing a bead on the smaller, more standard fighter planes is a harder task. 

The music is suitably light and cheerful for the game's cartoonish atmosphere, occasionally reminiscent of the early Final Fantasy games. The voice acting, whether in Japanese or in English, is only average. 

SkyGunner is a lighthearted romp through dangerous skies. The gameplay is as simple or complicated as a player wishes, but gamers are likely to be unengaged by the former and find insufficient incentive to seek the latter.


This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 22-Jul-02