Replay Value: 8.7
Sky Gunner is a title that I remember first hearing about earlier last year. From the moment I looked at it, I thought to myself, 'this game has absolutely no chance of making it stateside.' I only had to wait about another year to find out that Sony Computer Entertainment (the rightful owner of Sky Gunner) would actually let Atlus publish the Pixel Arts developed shooter. At first, the game may look like a niche title, but don't let the anime styled presentation fool you one bit. Sky Gunner may look easy and simplistic, but looks can be very deceiving, as Sky Gunner is one of the best, most refreshing and addictive air combat shooters you're going to come across in a long time.
Visually, Sky Gunner screams simplicity, but artistically the game is full of enjoyable scenarios and very nice character art. Technically you may not exactly find yourself in awe, as you would with a game like Metal Gear Solid 2, Gran Turismo 3, Final Fantasy X or Ace Combat 4. But you will find yourself pleasantly smiling upon witnessing how wonderful and vibrant everything in the game is. There are tons and tons of great colors, and not to mention an overwhelming amount of eye-candy, which primarily comes from the awesome particle effects engine the game features, that displays wonderful looking fireworks (more on that later) and explosions. The size of the bosses is quite tremendous. You'll encounter some incredibly huge foes that rival anything you may have seen in the past. And there's almost nothing like defeating a foe that is roughly 60 times your size and 600 times your weight. Seeing the sucker go down in flames is what it's all about, and fortunately Sky Gunner handles that just fine. The game's visuals are hardly a turn off, and they do in fact impress on numerous occasions, just don't go in expecting Ace Combat 4 material here, you won't get it. What you will get is a furious, lighthearted shooter, that plays well, albeit with a few slowdown problems, and shouldn't disappoint. Take a look at the 100 screenshots we have to decide for yourself.
Let me get one thing off the bat; if you pass up on Sky Gunner because of its look, you're sorely missing out on one incredibly good experience. When I first got my copy of the game a few weeks before it hit retail shelves, I popped the DVD in with really no expectations. I hadn't heard much of the game, never really heard how well it did in Japan both in sales and critically. To my extreme surprise, Sky Gunner blew me away. It was charming but at the same time, challenging, exciting, fun, intriguing and addictive. It was almost like playing a lighter version of Ace Combat 4 and Contra in the skies, and that is exactly who I recommend this game to, the Contra and Ace Combat fans. The game is surely bound to grip you with its great gameplay. Sky Gunner is, unfortunately, a single player game only. I'm disappointed somewhat, because to me it could've made a wonderful co-op title as well. There are extras to unlock though, so as you progress through the game and you earn points for every stage you complete, the amount of points you earn will possibly unlock a secret of some sort in the game. You will have control of three different characters in the game, one of which you choose and play the adventure through with. You'll have access to various weapons like cross homing missiles and pumpkin bombs and each gunner is equipped with machine gun firepower so you've always got it to use while your primary weapons are recharging. Best of all, knocking things down with the machine gun isn't as complicated as it is in other air combat titles, it's pretty much like Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter. One thing you can do with the gunners is lock onto multiple foes (those that are traveling in packs) and shoot out a bomb or two at them. This bomb will explode and create fireworks that will destroy whatever foe was around the explosion (this is what was mentioned earlier). Linking combos should be a common practice while playing SG, as it gets the bogies out of the way quicker. With that said, I'll mention that the game is story driven and it plays out very casually and expectedly, think Mega Man.
"The town of Rive is hosting an Expo where the Eternal Engine, an engine that can run forever without an external power supply, will be unveiled. But, the criminal genius, Ventre, is out to claim it for his own. Ciel and Copain, best friends and well-known Gunners in Rive, have been asked by the chief of police, Hardi, to assist in guarding the Expo. They are soon joined by a female Gunner, Femme, who arrives from a nearby town, Neju. Only these talented Gunners, pilots of specialized aircraft, can foil Ventre's plan in this aerial combat adventure." - Atlus
That pretty sums up the story of Sky Gunner. Surely as you progress, you'll notice how the game not only requires you to shoot everything in your path, but to also protect an ally on the ground, from the sky. Make sure you give Sky Gunner a look. This is one game you don't want to pass up not playing.
The game features a ton of voice acting, and thankfully it's some of the better Japanese to English voice acting out there on the PS2. But for those who want to, you can switch between English spoken dialogue to Japanese spoken dialogue. Subtitles are also present in dialogue bubbles that appear whenever characters interact, so feel free to put your headphones on and listen to a soundtrack; you don't have to worry about missing commands. The musical audio in the game is pretty good too. Much like the rest of the game, it's lighthearted and enjoyable. It's hardly annoying, so no need to worry.
You will be given two styles of controlling given to you, and it is highly recommended that you pick the novice controls, because the intermediate controls are very frustrating and do take a lot of time to get adjusted to. Once you set your control style, play the game away, and enjoy controlling your gunner with just one analog stick in full 360-degree motion. Give the controls in Sky Gunner about 5 or so minutes, and you're all set. You'll be busting out those firework combos in no time.
I have almost nothing negative to say about Sky Gunner. Aside from the slowdown and the lack of two-player co-op play, Sky Gunner is a wonderful game. Also, it must be said that the US version has a code that adjusts the game to a constant 30 frames per second and no slowdown, instead of 60 with some slowdown. Unlocking new modes, three new characters, and other options in Sky Gunner definitely gives this game a good boost in the replay department. For more on all of the secrets in the game, visit the official Atlus website (www.atlus.com) and enter the Sky Gunner page. You can also post your Sky Gunner scores on the website and fight for Sky Gunner supremacy. Don't miss out on Sky Gunner folks. It's a wholehearted recommendation, as this game gets two big thumbs up from yours truly. This is the first standout sleeper of the year.