Sunday, 1 January 2017

Skyblazer (SNES)

Skyblazer SNES title screen
Developer:Ukiyotei|Release Date:1994|Systems:Super Nintendo

One thing I like about consoles like the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive, is that they had seemingly infinite games released for them during the 90s. Sure its actually closer to a few thousand, but when you only play 50 something games a year, that may as well be infinite. Every time I think that I must be running out of interesting games to play, there's always something else in the library to check out.

Which is why I'll never be tempted to do a Chrontendo-style project of my own for the SNES, as that'd be one hell of a mountain to dig through.

Anyway, today's semi-buried SNES gem on Super Adventures is Star... Skyblazer. I keep wanting to call it 'Starblazer' and have to correct myself, because this isn't a black & white sci-fi anthology comic or the US adaptation of 'Space Battleship Yamato', it's the Western version of a Japanese game called Karuraou. I'm not sure what that means exactly, but a quick Google search tells me that Karura is an alternate Japanese spelling for 'Garuda', a Hindi god with the head and wings of an eagle. Garuda's also what the game's hero was called in Japan, until it was changed to 'Sky' for the Western release.
 


Hi Raglan.

Wait, am I Ashura, Lord of War? I thought I was Sky. Does this mean that I get to summon warlords and conquer the overworld? Because that would be cool. Or is this just a message to Ashura that I've intercepted with my intro screen?

Whoa, nice storm effects. Even the trees in the background are shaking in the wind.

This guy doesn't look much like a Lord of War though. Plus he pokes people instead of throwing punches, he can't stomp on them from above, and his kicks have terrible range. I'm liking that energy shock wave though; one hit annihilated the guy, leaving only a floating vial of green liquid the same colour as my health bar. I wonder what'll happen when I drink it...

The game's a platformer by the way, in case the fact that it's obviously a platformer didn't give it away. I dunno, maybe you've been thrown off by the way I haven't started on a forest level. Also I didn't use a platform to get up here, I had to climb up the wall! Proper Spider-Man climbing, not 'latch onto it and jump again from there' climbing.

Hang on... it doesn't know how many lives I have? That's a new one to me, I've never seen a game try to add a bit of mystery to its lives counter before.


A SHORT BIT OF PLATFORMING LATER.


Oh this guy must be Ashura, Lord of War! In Hindu mythology an Asura is a supernatural demigod, so I think that's what they're going for here. My first clue was that the woman he's pulling a King Kong on is called Vishnu in the original Japanese version (she's apparently called Ariana in this version, though I haven't been told that yet.)

Whoa! I was expecting this to be a tough fight, but I also expected to be able to move. The hero just stood there stunned and took a couple dozen hungry fireballs to the face. It's a good demonstration of his post-attack invulnerability though, which I've learned not to take for granted in these games.

There's apparently greater problems than the hero's petty pains though, as an old man drags him here, insults him a couple of times, and brings him back to life! In fact he's come away from this with more life, as the old guy's extended the E bar by one hit point! It stands for 'endurance' by the way, not 'energy'; he's not a robot.

The hero declares that he's Sky, descendant of the sorcerer sorceror Sky-Lord, and that he's totally capable of saving the day here! The old man (called Brahma in the Japanese game) points out that Sky-Lord got himself killed and he was far more skilled and powerful than Sky is. Sky couldn't even survive one boss battle!

But Sky's got spirit, and there's no other heroes volunteering, so the guy shows him a mystic pattern on the wall to help preserve his quest! So that's how the passwords work then.

Hey, the game's got a world map! A really drab looking map. And they didn't even give it its own theme; the game's still playing the music from the last cutscene. The game has a vaguely Indian-sounding soundtrack and it's not really working for me. I mean notes are playing in sequence correctly, I'm just beginning to wish they weren't.


LEVEL 2: FALTINE'S WOODS.


And the first real level after the prologue is a forest level! But unlike most/all other forest levels I can jump around in the leaves as well as the branches.

Though I need to be careful as there's evil plants hidden inside that like to spit spiky balls at me. Shouldn't they be down in the soil, sucking up nutrients instead of bothering me? Some of the trees have a similar disdain for soil, as occasionally I'll find one sticking out of a bottomless pit instead of the nice safe ground. It means I have to be careful where I'm falling, especially as I can't pull the camera down when I'm crouched to survey what's beneath me.

This wasn't a huge stage, but I got two 1UPs out of it! One was just floating above a tree, the other I got for collecting 100 gems. The enemies have been nice enough to drop them for me on death, along with health and mana vials.


LEVEL 3: THE TEMPLE INFERNUS.


And after the forest level is Bowser's castle! Lots of jumping over fire pits while fireballs leap out at me. Bollocks to going down into that fire pit I just crossed to get that mana potion though. I can't say it's not tempting, but I'm less eager to risk learning if the fire beneath it is an instant kill. Plus I already have full mana, so there's absolutely no need. No bonus points for surplus potions. No points at all in fact.

Diagonal fire breath attacks huh? I saw him charging up for a second but I never expected him to tilt his head up to reach me up here on my moving platform. Kind of a bastard move really as I haven't got an abundance of other places to stand right now. Unless I've made it close enough to make it over his head and land behind him. I should give that a try while I'm still flashing.

It might be worth killing him as well to see what he drops (I can always use more health and gems). Though he'll probably just respawn when I scroll the screen back again, so there's no way to wipe the enemies out for good. 

Even when I do something well, I fuck up! Nice three-stage swirly death animation though. When it comes to expiring, Sky's a true pro.

It'd probably be safe to take these out with my energy wave attack from a distance, but I'm less confident in my ability to kill the spiky discs rolling across the floors and walls. Either way it seems like I'm going to have to dodge more enemies than I punch in this section of the temple.

This temple's built from these smaller stages and they're starting to get a bit more complicated than a straight run to the right. It's far from a sprawling mess, it's still very obvious where I need to go (to the point where they got away with making the exit a wall), but I'm getting more use out of the vertical scrolling now. Plus I got another 1UP along the way!

Oh crap, it's a proper boss fight! I wasn't expecting this so early.

I'm guessing that thing down there is a lamp, because a genie keeps coming out of it and throwing fireballs at me. Everyone's all about the fireballs in this.

It seems that I have to get in close and kick the lamp when the genie's having a 2 second nap inside, but I have to be really quick about it. What makes it difficult is that the lamp walks around while the genie's inside, giving me a moving target and potentially giving me less room to dodge when the genie re-emerges.


THREE LIVES LATER.


That's how it's done! Took me a while to work out the best approach, but I got there in the end. Boss #2 down.

Power gained Comet Flash!

I love gaining power. Now I can switch between my two special moves at the press of a shoulder button. I didn't gain a password though, so I'm going to go back to Faltine's Woods to load up on 1UPs. Both the gems and extra lives respawn when I return to an old level so I have a limitless supply to harvest if I'm willing to put the time in.


LEVEL 4: CLIFFS OF PERIL.


It's a surprise scrolling shoot 'em up level! It was a surprise level in general really as I wasn't expecting the bit of cliff along the path to be its own stage. Fortunately Sky is well equipped for actual skyblazing as he can grow wings and shoot energy blasts out of his hands. Only here though, he can't do it on the platforming stages.

This level's pretty decent, with lots of scenery to dodge through along the way. I'm a bit concerned about how far he drops when he takes damage, but I haven't lost a life yet so it's not been a huge problem.

It would be pointless to mention that this is an edit.
Though those flying elephants look like they've escaped from Final Fantasy VI. Not that amazing pixel art is a problem either.

Alright, I'm done with the cliffs, but now there's another tower coming up and it's even taller than the Temple Infernus! Personally though I'm more worried about what's in the forest next to it, as it's apparently so terrifying that Sky won't dare stray from the path, no matter what's in his way.

I don't want to bore you with a million screenshots, so I think I'm going to consider this island to be world 1 and turn the game off when I leave it. That means I'm nearly done here!


LEVEL 5: TOWER OF THE TAROLISK.


Hey, it's put me in a Nebulus-style rotating level! Instead of scrolling when I move horizontally, the background spins instead. That means that the platforms have to be attached to something for once, instead of floating in mid-air.

Every now and again I come across a door amongst the platforms that leads to a room inside the tower, but none of the rooms seem to go anywhere.

They're just full of gems and 1UPs and old purple goat sorcerers with lightning staves trying to one-shot kill me.

There's no time limit to worry about and pickups respawn when I re-enter a screen, so I can keep coming back into the same rooms over and over, getting an extra life for every 10 giant gems I pick up. I'd feel like I was cheating here, but I know that a game doesn't get this generous unless something very bad's coming up after it.

Hey, the map clearly showed that there's only one tower!

A series of collapsing platforms over an endless drop seems like it should be bad enough to burn through a few lives, but I actually got through without much trouble, so there's likely worse to come.

I love how he throws his arms back when he jumps by the way. This is a guy who loves being airborne.

Okay now things are genuinely getting tough for me. It doesn't seem like they've given me enough time to make it across the disappearing platforms before the platforms disappear on me. Fortunately I often land on something else before plunging into the bottomless void of certain death, but that just means I'm going to run out of patience before I run out of lives.

I keep trying to do smaller, quicker jumps, and time them so I can get onto the platforms at the exact frame they extend from the tower, but it's not happening. I also tried using my Comet Flash move to blast me forwards, but that threw me too far ahead!


WAY TOO MUCH TIME LATER.


Oh shit, I did it? I actually did it!

And then I came inches away from getting knocked right back down again by that spiky purple platform. Getting this bit right won't help me much if I mess up the next bit and have to do it all over again.

Fortunately going through a door counts as a checkpoint, so when he suffers a lethal toe-crushing accident in here, I don't have to re-do all the jumping.

There's no way this is my fault by the way, you can see that I totally made it to safety in time! It was my fault though when I immediately did the exact same thing and threw another life away. When I know something doesn't work, I should probably stop doing it.

It's not much fun trying to get past these eyeball spawning eyeball pods either, as they spill out so fast that I can't get onto the ledge and close enough to kick them. I could use my Comet Flash move to dart into him, destroying everything in my path, but that would demonstrate a lack of respect for the wall of deadly spikes behind him.

BOSS FIGHT!

Seems like I need to fight him the same way I fought the genie: by dodging the fireball, then getting in close when he's vulnerable. Trouble is that I've got crappy attack range so I need to get in really close.

He gets bigger every time I hit him! This isn't good! I can barely jump over him when he's this big; I won't have a chance if he grows again.

I eventually figured out that I can use my Comet Flash move to get the extra distance when he's rolling up the wall... trouble is that by the time I figured that out, I'd gotten killed and respawned at the start of the fight with just half my mana. It costs two units of mana to use the move, so I can only dodge two of his attacks now before I run out. Would be nice if they could drop a mana pick up for me halfway.


FIVE DEATHS LATER.


Okay there's no way I'm dodging an eyeball monster that big without magic. The thing practically fills the screen!

Now I'm wondering if that's blood around his eyelid, because the blood's supposed to be turned green in Western versions. Just taking a break from wondering how I'm going to beat this guy.

Wait, I've got an idea! A circle that big shouldn't be able to touch the corners any more!

Well it was worth a try.

Though it turns out that it does work, I had the right idea, I just have to wait until he's even bigger!

I threw every life I had at this guy in the end, all 13 of them, and I still couldn't beat him. I've been outclassed by an eyeball armadillo. I totally could've gotten him if it'd fully refilled my mana though! Probably.

Well there's the mystical password if you want to continue from where I failed. Seems that all I had to do to get it was lose. Actually I could've come back to his hut to get a password at any time, and he would've even thrown in a free health recharge for me. Not mana though, he doesn't do that.

I tried 'story' to see what that did and the old man told me "You still lack the power to go to the Eastern Plains". Well duh! I don't even have the motivation left in me to go back to that tower and try jumping across the disappear blocks again, so I won't be making a 14th attempt to kill the boss.

But if I had managed to beat the boss, I would've collected a Heal spell, then I'd have flown to the second island across a glorious Mode 7 landscape, collecting gems and dodging spikes along the way Once there I'd be able to choose which level I wanted to play next, and I'd presumably do pretty well at it before getting utterly destroyed by the next boss.


CONCLUSION

You know what Skyblazer reminded me of? Punky Skunk on the PlayStation. At first I figured that's because it's the only similarly slick 90s platformer I've played recently, but then I learned that they were both created by the same developer: Ukiyotei! I've got nowhere to go with this revelation, I just felt like mentioning Punky Skunk again.

Also Punky Skunk felt like a bit like a typical SNES game (just on the wrong system), but this is the actual dictionary definition of a SNES platformer. It's got the basics figured out, fantastic pixel art, parallax backgrounds, Mode 7 effects, a basically non existent story, plenty of variety, and it needs more than three buttons on the controller. But from what I saw of the game, it doesn't escape the bonds of averageness to reach the heights of a true SNES legend like Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country.

I'm find very little to actually complain about it though, aside for half my attacks falling an inch short of the thing I was trying to hit. The difficulty spikes weren't a great deal of fun (especially after I realised how much I'd have to replay to have another shot at that second boss), but reviewers seem to think that the game's generally too easy, so your mileage may vary there.

It's definitely not stingy with the extra lives, you even replay easy stages to stockpile them if you want, and it has infinite continues! But boss fights reset each time you die, so you do have to demonstrate some skill to make progress. You can't just throw lives at your problems until they go away. Plus the password system seems decent enough, as you're able to go get a new one any time you're on the map. Though that said I haven't actually tried seeing how long it takes to put one in.

I'm not sure I really want to give this a Not Crap award, but I gave one to Punky Skunk, so it's only fair. Plus it's a really solid game, and it gives you new powers to play with, and there's an old man that keeps calling you a 'whelp'. If I could take that boss down I'd want to play more of this, so I think it qualifies for a star.



Thanks for reading my first post of 2017! You're doing well so far, you haven't missed a single game all year.

Try leaving a comment, it might bring you happiness.

4 comments:

  1. So how is the new SAiG logo going?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also 2 questions:
      1.Have you played Serious Sam yet?
      2.Do you use emulators or the real systems? Just curious.

      Delete
    2. The new logo is going badly.

      I haven't played Serious Sam for the site yet, but I totally could at any moment.

      If a screenshot looks fuzzy, with video compression artefacts, it's probably been taken from the actual hardware.

      Delete
  2. Ray, thanks so much for taking my request! Really made my day to see this on here. I have to get myself a copy for my SNES, I haven't played it in years! Super glad you (sorta) enjoyed it. Happy New Year!

    ReplyDelete

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