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Posted on Aug 30th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, SNES, Nintendo, Sony, Action, Platformer


As I mentioned in my article last month, we often like to search for hidden gems to add to our collections and eventually play if or when we finally get around to it. Sometimes, as was the case last month with Robotrek, we find a game that we feel is better left hidden and come away disappointed. Other times, as is the case this month with Skyblazer, we feel as if we have struck gold.



Skyblazer is a sidescrolling action platformer for the Super Nintendo that was developed by Ukiyotei and published by Sony Imagesoft, which became Sony Interactive Studios America around the time of the PlayStation's release and was later renamed to 989 Studios. Skyblazer was released in January, February, and March of 1994 for North America, Japan, and Europe respectively and was met with positive critical reception.

The game begins with a text crawl wherein Raglan, Lord of Darkness and King of Destruction, commands Ashura, Lord of War, to summon his warlords and conquer the overworld so that he may be restored to the world. As Sky, son of the previous Skylord who defeated Raglan and Ashura in the past, it is your job to defeat them once again. In the opening prologue level, Sky witnesses Ashura kidnapping the sorceress Arianna and then is promptly defeated. An old man comes to Sky's aid and informs him that he is not yet powerful enough to defeat Ashura. Elements of the story and general design of Skyblazer have a distinct eastern flair that contains many allusions to Hindu mythology, which helps it to stand out from other games released at the time. That being said, this is still a 16-bit side-scrolling action game with the usual minimalist approach to story, so there's not much to dissect here.


There is a bit of exposition throughout the game.

As mentioned previously, Skyblazer is a side-scrolling action platformer, so you can expect to spend much of the game running and jumping through the environment. The movement controls feel tight and fluid, so navigating the game's many levels is always fun. One interesting mechanic that is present is the ability to cling to walls and climb them much like in Contra III. This is a neat mechanic that is used to great effect in Skyblazer, and the level designs facilitate this very well. The only downside to the wall climbing mechanic is that Sky will often cling to walls when you don't want him to, resulting in unnecessary hits or deaths. My only other nitpicks with the movement controls is that the jumping can feel a tad floaty and Sky's forward momentum can sometimes make running feel slippery, but these minor quirks are quickly adjusted to, and the jumping mechanics actually compliment the level designs very well.

Speaking of which, there are many different types of levels and most of them are well-designed and fun. There are many differing locations present in the game including temples, caves, and forests, and many of the game's levels have their own gimmick that keeps them unique and interesting. For example, an early level called the Tower of the Tarolisk has you moving on the outside of a tower which rotates as you move around it. Most of the levels are fairly straightforward, but there are a couple that can be a bit maze-like, such as the underwater level.


The Storm Fortress has you moving through the air via air currents.

Attacking enemies is mostly accomplished by using a series of short-range melee attacks which have a sufficient reach for taking out enemies without getting hit yourself. There are also special abilities that can be used at the expense of a red magic meter. Special abilities are gained by defeating bosses and include a long-range projectile attack, a healing ability, and a lightning attack that causes lightning bolts to descend from the sky, just to name a few. Different abilities consume varying amounts of the magic meter, and there are many refills to be found along the way, so frequent use of Sky's abilities is encouraged.

As a matter of fact, while it is not completely devoid of challenge, Skyblazer is a fairly easy game when compared to many of its contemporaries, and while some may consider its relative ease to be a flaw, I personally did not mind and found it to be a nice and leisurely change of pace. Items to refill magic and health are scattered plentifully throughout the levels, and most enemies take only one or two hits to defeat. There are also a ton of gems scattered about, and collecting 100 gems will grant an extra life, and most players will obtain plenty of lives to carry them throughout the game.


There are also plenty of bonus rooms with items tucked away.

Boss fights are typically well-designed and fun to experience. Most of the fights feel difficult at first, but you will likely quickly discover the enemies' patterns and be able to exploit their weaknesses, rendering them fairly trivial in the end. My personal favorite was a spinning wall face that required you to jump through gaps in its side after every hit, which I found to be one of the more unique bosses I've seen in a 2D game. There were a couple of fights I found to be a drag, specifically the boss of the underwater stage and the final boss himself, Raglan, but I enjoyed most of the fights. It is worth pointing out that there is a boss gauntlet near the end of the game just before fighting Raglan, but these bosses are fairly easy once you learn their patterns, and the game gives you a generous amount of health and magic refills between fights, so it's not very difficult.

There are a couple of shoot 'em up inspired auto-scrolling levels in which Sky will don wings to fly and be able to freely shoot enemies in his path. Similar to the final level of Kid Icarus, the player will have to continuously press the jump button in order to gain and maintain altitude. These levels are short and sweet, and I found them to be a nice diversion from the typical platforming levels. There are also a couple of bonus stages when moving to a new major area in which Sky will fly in a perspective similar to Pilotwings. There are no enemies during these levels, only a ton of gems for Sky to collect. I really enjoyed both of these extra level types and would have liked to have seen more of these in the game.


One of the few bonus levels in the game.

The presentation of Skyblazer is well done also. Character and enemy sprites are nice and detailed, and while the environments look beautiful, they can also look a bit bland. The color palette is great with a nice assortment of vibrant colors popping out in almost any instance. There are also a variety of effects, such as some cool Mode 7 rotation and scaling, that helps keep the visuals interesting. The music is good in general, with a distinct eastern flair that matches the story and tone of the game quite well, although most of the music tracks are fairly short and can get repetitive.

Skyblazer is a great game that I would not only recommend to anyone who enjoys sidescrolling action games, but it is a game that I would gladly place alongside the best of the genre. While some complaints have been levied against the game's shorter length (it can be finished in only 1-2 hours depending on skill level) and easier challenge when compared to other games, I personally didn't mind and found it refreshing after playing so many more difficult games recently. Loose copies tend to sell for at least $50 on the used market, so the price of admission can be steep for such a short game, but it is definitely worth experiencing any way you can.



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Comments
 
Nice write up.  This sounds like a great game.  I will have to seek this one out!
 
Great review! This is one of those games I see mentioned once in a great while, but for some reason, it's never on my radar. Looks amazing, though, and the lower difficulty level would indeed be a nice change of pace. I might have to seek this one out!

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