Sky Force for Palm OS ReviewBy: 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.
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.
To 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!
Very 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.
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.
My overall rating: 4.5 / 5
Price: $9.95 USD
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