by Polly

Skyblazer bears the distinction of being the last SNES game I bought back in 1997 before I made the leap to the next generation of gaming to the *gag* N64. (Shut up, StarFox 64 was totally worth it...) I remember picking it up at K-Mart brand-new for a measly $7.00 after tax. I'd seen the box sitting at ye olde rental store and never really paid it much mind. The "Sony Imagesoft" logo was really enough to scare me away. What the hell else had I seen their logo on? Terrible movie tie-in games, and the only other game I remember with their name on it was ESPN Baseball Tonight, which my dad had rented once. Clearly not a company that was notable for diddly squat during the 16-bit generation, however only a year or so after Skyblazer's release, Sony would go on to become the evil gaming overlords for the remainder of the 90's till the mid-2000's. And then...



Skyblazer is the story of a young man named Sky who is setting out on an epic adventure to rescue the princess Arianna from being sacrificed by the Lord of War, Ashura. Talk about an asshole! In his initial confrontation with the Lord of War, which takes place within the first five minutes of the game, Sky gets his shit fucked up and just like that some old geezer is sending him around the world to gather the powers he'll need in order to finally overcome Ashura and save the princess. Nothing we've never dealt with before, right?

Skyblazer's visuals are, in a word, gorgeous. This is definitely one of the more beautiful games on the console. There's so much detail, variety, and vibrance in all of the background and character designs that it's really hard to not stop and just appreciate the sights every now and then. Nearly every stage brings an entirely new visual style to the table, with only a couple bits being re-used here and there. Needless to say, getting to a new area is always an interesting experience just to see what's in store. The game utilizes nearly every neat visual trick the SNES was capable of, featuring excellent use of smooth Mode-7 sections, some really nice scaling effects, and excellent use of background layering. Sky's attack and movement animations are fluid and detailed, as are his enemies'. The huge boss encounters, which also make excellent use of the SNES' special effects, also make for great highlights over the course of Sky's adventure.

The game's soundtrack, composed by Harumi Fujita of Mega Man 3, 4, and 9, Breath of Fire, and Metal Slug fame, without a doubt kicks some serious ass. The tunes are mostly comprised of high-tempo, percussion-heavy, fantasy-esque pieces and all rock pretty damn hard and fit each stage's mood perfectly. Sound effects and the like get their job done quite nicely, managing to have enough oomph to get the point across without every being jarring enough to ruin the background score. I really coulda done without Sky's voice samples, however. Or they could have at least toned down the frequency a bit. Everytime he attacks, takes damage, farts, breathes, shifts his eyes a little bit, or dies, Sky lets out the most annoying battle grunts and bored sounding screams I think I've ever heard in a video game. Jumping and attacking is a fun little combo. Performed in this order it almost sounds like he's yelling "TUBE TOP TUBE TOP TUBE TOP TUBE TOP!"

At its heart, Skyblazer is a standard 2D platformer. Kill enemies, hop around, dodge crushing walls, you know the drill and have done it a hundred times before. To keep things interesting though, the game likes to throw new tricks at you every now and then such as auto-scrolling shmup-type levels and some Space Harrier bonus areas to rack up literally 10s of lives at a time. Between each stage, you'll also be able to navigate an overhead map screen, which gives you a few options on what order you'd like to complete the stages in. It's not enough to dramatically consider the game a hybrid of any sort, like say, Actraiser, but it's always nice to have a change of pace and options.

For the most part, Skyblazer handles its platforming nature just fine. Sky, of course, gets all the standard fun stuff such as wall jumping and the like. You get melee attacks, which will be your bread and butter for most of the game, and special moves that require varying amounts of magic points to use to help you through each stage. You earn special moves by overcoming the game's intense boss encounters and they're all fairly neat and useful. You'll gain the ability to dash long distances to clear huge parts of stages, call forth lightning, power up your attacks, and of course healing, along with a few more odds and ends. You'll rarely ever have to play conservatively with these powers as magic point replenishing power-ups, health, and 1-ups are all fairly common, and will always reappear if you exit an area and return. In fact, EVERY power-up in the game works like this, so you've technically got an infinite supply of anything you can find, provided you can easily run back and forth re-collecting it. Yes, even 1-ups.

This infinite item collection method seems to be balanced out by the fact that Skyblazer packs a healthy challenge. Perhaps, it's just a bit too hard at times, but like I said, the re-collection of power-ups seems to balance it out. Losing five lives to a particularly tricky boss isn't all that bad in the grand scheme of things if you've got 30-50 lives in stock.

Though each stage tries to present unique challenges for the player to overcome, a lot of the time you may find yourself trying to overcome the perils of sometimes wonky play control and dodgy hit detection. Sky is in no way a chore to control, but the controls feel a little too loose at times. You'll likely feel the impact from jumping more than anything else, and since the game features some truly treacherous jumping puzzles, frustration may begin to set in. Attacking and keeping yourself safe from larger enemies can also prove to be a pain, because sometimes it just feels like your hit box is too big to not get hit from certain encounters. This can be ever so annoying since you seem to always take more damage from actually touching enemies than you would their attacks or environmental hazards such as spikes. Providing a bit of balance to the somewhat barfy hit-detection, is the fact that Sky's physical and magical attacks seem to have a much larger range than you'd actually think they do, so you're capable of landing hits at times when you'd think you couldn't. Again, though it's flawed, things seem to somehow balance themselves out.

There are areas, however, where things aren't handled so smoothly. There are a few plain bullshitty moments in the game that will drive some players mad. Trying to figure out the underwater fortress' maze of currents and levers is bad enough, but the boss fight to that particular stage was frustrating and bullshitty enough to make me want to never touch the game again when I first played it. It's just a huge speed bump that throws off the entire game's pacing and nearly ruins the experience. Another good bit of bullshittyness comes toward the end of the game when you're thrown into an annoying boss fight gauntlet which smacks of being incredibly lazy while trying to add playtime to a game that really doesn't need to be any longer than it would be without it.

Skyblazer is a bit of an oddity to me at least. It's far from perfect, but I see it as good enough to deserve a bit more recognition than it gets. In fact, I can't say I've ever seen it mentioned often (if ever) when the SNES library is mentioned. This is basically a game that, with just a bit more polish (it's funny saying that, because the game already does shine), a year or two earlier release date, and maybe a beter company backing it, could have gone from being "pretty good" to "really good." It's got a lot of rough edges, but in end the game totally won me over and is deserving of a good score. It's well worth anyone's time to dig it up and give it a whirl, even if only for the sake of curiosity. You may find yourself as surprised as I was.

Also, one final bit of fun:

Notice something interesting with the game's password system? I don't know about you, but to me those symbols look just a little familiar... Why, they all kinda look like X's, O's, Triangles, and Squares... Seems they were planting the seeds about a year early.

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