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Sky Force Review for Palm OS

Sky Force for Palm OS Review

By: Kris Keilhack - PalmInfocenter
March 28, 2006

 

From the mid 80s to the early 90s, top-down shooters reigned supreme as the twitch gamer's weapon of choice. Devoid of any storyline or in-depth gameplay, titles such as 1941, Raiden, and Raystorm all followed the same gameplay mold set by Xevious back in 1983. While the Palm has had its own mainstay of the genre for many years (Astraware's Zap), there has not been much in the way of recent developments to showcase what newer Palm devices are capable of hardware-wise. Enter Infinite Dreams' Sky Force. As soon as I played the demo for this game I knew I had a winner on my hands!

Plot and Game Options
While the game thankfully does not even attempt to offer any kind of back-story, the basic premise seems the usual "one fighter save the world." Initial expectations are set quite high. The opening screen features excellent music that wouldn't sound out of place in a topflight 16-bit console title. Also present is an excellent background graphic of a pilot standing in front of an SR71 Blackbird. Curiously enough, the SR71 is not playable within the game and seems to have been chosen for no reason other than simply because it looks cool. Gameplay options are made at this screen. The player does get the ability to select one of three fighter ship classes--weak and nimble purple scout, slow but rugged brown bomber and the all-around average red fighter. I played through the game in the red fighter but I did sample the first two stages in both of the other planes. I felt the large bomber too slow and a bit large for the confines of the playfield. The scout was speedy but its lack of firepower already became distressing in level two.

Gameplay
Actual gameplay is superb. This singe-player only game start off modestly challenge and only grows more difficult with each second of constant action. Enemies come at the player in regular but still frantic patterns. I had my hands full trying to destroy the opposing fighters and gun installations. Additional challenges are offered in the form of stranded prisoners to rescue on the ground and powerups and bonus stars to collect. I unfortunately shot more of the prisoners than I was able to rescue--fortunately, SkyForce doesn't penalize you too much for this and you can continue on to the next level. Powerups are crucial to being able to complete the game. The ship's initial gun is barely capable of defeating the weakest enemies. After three or four power-up balls things improve slightly. Like some other titles in the genre, including the Palm OS's own Zap, the loss of your ship releases the stored powerups so you CAN grab most them if you act quickly. You also have a mega weapon that you can unleash on a screen full of enemies but I found myself using that less frequently than my main guns simply because I did not want to have to reposition any fingers to trigger it! Each stage has a boss enemy of sorts (or bosses). Level four's massive bomber, reminiscent of a highly stylized B-29, is jaw dropping.

Sky Force Review for Palm OSTo advance to the next stage, the player must cause a certain amount of destruction (usually ~80-85%) of enemy ships & structures. The upper right corner of the screen thankfully includes a destruction counter that keeps track of how much devastation you have caused on each stage. If you do not meet the quote, the stage must be replayed.

The amount of fire thrown at the player by the enemies in SkyForce is frightening. You WILL take damage (fortunately you have shields so a single hit doesn't make you lose a ship) no matter how fast your fingers are flying! The Easy difficulty mode only offers the first two stages in order to force the player to select a more challenging difficulty level. Levels four and five were almost unbelievably hard in certain spots even on Normal difficulty. Novice gamers need not apply!

Graphics & Sound
Technically, the game can stand with the very best of the titles available under Palm OS. I played version 1.22 for my review which adds rudimentary support for 320*480 screens. While the lower half of the screen is not used for actual gameplay (sadly enough) a muted white & grey Sky Force logo is displayed. A border is also present around the left & right sides of the screen. This is by far my greatest complaint with Sky Force. The game's sprites, while attractive and well designed, are impossibly small--and the bullets they fire are even smaller. It's impossible to dodge fire when you cannot even see many of the projectiles heading towards your ship! I'd gladly have suffered a few frames less animation, no in-game soundtrack or steeper hardware requirements if even part of the lower portion of the screen could have been used to enlarge the playfield and the sprites. I have 20/20 vision and I still had to squint to try and discern whether something was a particle effect or an enemy rocket. So, great graphics but not enough of the screen used for 'em! Aside from this major quibble, the graphics are absolutely brilliant. The attention to detail on a mobile game is eye-popping! Just a few examples of the lush graphics are the rocks dotting the coastline around a lighthouse tower, the animated fire & smoke coming out of a destroyed enemy battleship and the parallax scrollling of multi-layered clouds in the opening screens of stage 1.

The sound effects and, especially, the music, are among some of the best I've ever heard on the Palm platform. Each stage has a unique, rousing electronic musical accompaniment. These songs really would not sound out of place on an Amiga MOD compilation or a top-notch Genesis or SNES title. Friendly prisoners emit a realistic groan when shot. Other sound effects are basic but plentiful.

Control & Misc
The frenzied gameplay is, as always, challenging even on the most game-friendly of Palms. Fortunately, Infinite Dreams permits button remapping. I found a workable combination on my TX where I used the d-pad for control, the Contacts & Web button for primary & secondary fire while the Home button paused the game. While it's against my innate nature as a shooter fan, I found the game's autofire option to be quite a relief for my aching thumb! I'd recommend everyone at least trying to play the game with auto-fire on. But be warned-you will accidentally shoot the friendlies with autofire enabled!

Sky Force Review for Palm OSVery little slowdown occurred even on screens packed with objects and the soundtrack playing. I did experience three random crashes when loading a new stage. I attribute those to heap memory issues on the TX (a frequent problem with this device) as I had been web browsing with Blazer & Wi-Fi prior to launching the game on at least one of those occasions. Otherwise, the game was stable in the 1.22 revision. It also launched nicely off of an SD card.

Conclusion
Kudos to Infinite Dreams for not only addressing a major gap in the Palm OS games library but for crafting such a professional title in the process. I do realize the SkyForce is a multi-platform title and that does not detract at all from its overall score (it is also available for Windows Mobile). In the future I'd love to either play a Zodiac enhanced version or see some technical wizardry performed on future updates to get it running in 320*480 on most Palm devices. Additionally, some mission packs or a random enemy generator could do a lot to enhance the repeat play value of the title.

Sky Force for Palm OS
Sky Force for Windows Mobile

My overall rating:    4.5/5 - Palm Software 4.5 / 5

Price: $9.95 USD

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Review Feedback

KultiVator @ 3/29/2006 4:10:08 PM # Q
Good review - I too agree that its nice to see something like this developed on the Palm (along with theie very fine "BoulderDash" clone called "SuperMiners".

Both games are great, but do suffer with the lowest-common-denominator effect of the WinMob 320x240 playfield.

Perhaps the developers will find a way to offer multi-platform support without limiting us to the small play area in a future revision of the game.

Thanks again for the review.


KultiVator

RE: Review Feedback
hkklife @ 3/29/2006 5:05:04 PM # Q
KV;

It didn't strike me that the WinMob "L-C-D factor" might be the culprit for not supporting 320*48 on POS devices. Of course, cost/apathy/technical considerations could also be reasons.

It really irks me to see developers letting the user community down time after time in one of the few areas where Palm is leaps and bounds ahead of much of the WinMob competition.

I think that as everyone migrates towards Treos, 320*320 will really become entrenched as the de facto resolution for whatever future remains for POS.

This problem is not just for Palm game titles either--I have played one or two GameBoy Advance games over the past couple years that reduced the playfield to a portion of the available screen space with a huge black border on all sides. That's just inexcusable on a dedicated games console.

Glad you liked the review. I have another one coming soon for Deluxeware's Exact II with several others in the pipeline.
Feel free to make any suggestions for overlooked entertainment titles that you'd like to see reviewed on PIC.

Pilot 1000-->Pilot 5000-->PalmPilot Pro-->IIIe-->Vx-->m505-->T|T-->T|T2-->T|C-->T|T3-->T|T5-->TX

RE: Review Feedback
KultiVator @ 3/30/2006 1:30:56 PM # Q
It is my feeling (but not necessarily a fact) that the developer has built a Virtual Machine for Palm, WinMob,etc and that the game is written for the Virtual Machine rather than for the real hardware in the Palm and WinMob handheld (a bit like a Java VM or the common code platform used by TomTom).

This allows them to write the code once and deploy it fairly painlessly on any platform where they have ported the virtual machine.

If you play a few of their games, you begin to see how this is likely to be fact rather than fantasy. Also, their rate of releasing games was rather rapid - I seem to remember three releases within a couple of weeks last year.

As a result, I wouldn't hold your breath for 320x320 or 320x480 versions, as these are not common resolutions on the other platforms that this developer targets.

KultiVator

RE: Review Feedback
ackmondual @ 4/4/2006 6:28:32 PM # Q
@hkklife
What GBA games are you referring to? And do u kno where they were ported from? Reminds me of the alternative like playing Jack BBQ by Industry Entertainment/Mobile Wizardry where hi-res+ is just hi-res stretched to fit the width or height of the screen that's now 160 pixels extra. On my T|T3, both look ugly, and in landscape mode, slows it down. Speaking of which, Broken Sword: Shadows of the Templar by Astraware I hear looks not as clean as its GBA version.

@KultiVator
Yeah, hi-res+ will always be a pOS gamer's reach and luxury. The only hi-res+ games early to date is the T|T3. That's it. Sure, there was also the zods, but zod users would demand full zod support (vibration, analog support, graphics acceleration) that that it would practically be like making another version right there. Even with many Clies that are hi-res+ enabled, thanks to an old time fiasco and dispute betw Palm and Sony, Clies use another engine for hi-res graphics, which usually meant yet another version was required for Sony devices. It really stinks, but I can understand that it's alot of work for the dev

"Do you know the difference between an error and a mistake? Anyone can make an error, but that error doesn't become a mistake until you refuse to correct it."
-Grand Admiral Thrawn

the secret to enjoying your job is to have a hobby that's even worse

My PDAs: Visor --> Visor Neo (blue) --> Zire 71 --> Tungsten T3 (with 4 of 6 screws still remaining) ~?~> zodiac 2?

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Excellent on a Zodiac

asiayeah @ 3/29/2006 7:14:15 PM # Q
This game is ideal for Zodiac owners with its game hanheld form factor and a joystick!

--
With great power comes great responsiblity.
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Nice one!

Docta G @ 3/29/2006 7:43:22 PM # Q
Good review, but I disagree that it doesn't have enough replayability.

I had it on my T3 last year for quite a while, and never actually registered it as I had enough fun on the first level, changing ships and skill level, but most of all trying to get a perfect score. It was a great 2-minute burst of action.

The only reason I never registered it was because I was worried about how much time I would waste on it!!

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Way too tiny

eternityblue @ 3/29/2006 9:22:43 PM # Q
I think it is a good game with a fatal flaw: it really is too hard to see the guys you need to rescue and all the projectiles. I'll but it when they get it running full-screen on my Palm. BTW, I think the game was geared to smartphones, not WM.

For me, I'd rather play Little John Palm with Aleste for Game Gear. That works way better for me playability-wise.

RE: Way too tiny
ackmondual @ 4/4/2006 7:29:25 PM # Q
People who've beaten this game say for the most part, they've memorized where the prisoners and enemies are. IIRC, hard mode requires you to rescue a percentage of the prisoners, so many of us are in trouble from the get-go

"Do you know the difference between an error and a mistake? Anyone can make an error, but that error doesn't become a mistake until you refuse to correct it."
-Grand Admiral Thrawn

the secret to enjoying your job is to have a hobby that's even worse

My PDAs: Visor --> Visor Neo (blue) --> Zire 71 --> Tungsten T3 (with 4 of 6 screws still remaining) ~?~> zodiac 2?

Reply to this comment

Great game, but my complaints....

ackmondual @ 4/4/2006 7:31:50 PM # Q
-prisoners and bullets (large bullets are fine, but small.... damn) are hard to see
-can't suspend and save your game. Like the old consoles, these games gotta be played through one whole sitting
-if the extra hi-res+ space isn't going towards gameplay, I'd much prefer the graffiti area to invoke screenshots or to quickly quit the game or bring up options.
-can't change settings mid-game. Would've been great to mute music/sound or to change auto-fire settings
-A prisoner counter would've been nice rather than having to memorize how many you've rescued so far
-with the autofire setting on, you can stop your fire by pressing and holding the fire button. Would've been nice if the flipside were implemented. You normally don't fire, but pressing and holding down the button is autofire


"Do you know the difference between an error and a mistake? Anyone can make an error, but that error doesn't become a mistake until you refuse to correct it."
-Grand Admiral Thrawn

the secret to enjoying your job is to have a hobby that's even worse

My PDAs: Visor --> Visor Neo (blue) --> Zire 71 --> Tungsten T3 (with 4 of 6 screws still remaining) ~?~> zodiac 2?

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