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Review by: Matthew Dujnic
Published: July 2, 2002
Sky Gunner is an arcade shooter reminiscent of Star Fox, and its presentation is like that of a classic shooter: one game mode, a short crop of levels, and an emphasis on hardcore play strategy for its lasting appeal. Despite having one save slot, Sky Gunner is meant to be played like the shooters of old; fight all the way through to the end and go for the classic, all consuming prize: the high score. Atlus is so convinced of the merits of this old fashioned approach that you can even submit your high scores to their website and earn nationwide fame. But in an industry where point scoring is passé, will Sky Gunner still grab gamers?
The story is set in a cartoon steampunk era with (of all things) a French flair. Scientists have developed a fabulous new technology: the perpetual motion machine, Eternal Engine. The evil mastermind, Ventre, however, wants the Engine for himself, and will stop at nothing to get it. Leading the fight to stop Ventre are the three Gunners of Rive, Femme, Ciel, and Copain. They’ll be blasting enemies over rooftops in their hometown and in high-altitude battles around enormous airships. The story progresses through lengthy cutscenes twixt the levels, featuring strings of humorous phone calls among heroes and villains, all leading up to the big boss takedown at the end of the game.
There are only a handful of levels, but each is a multi-tiered experience. For example, as you fly in to do battle, your first goal might be to take down some small squads. Once those are vanquished, Ventre will try other ploys, sending out progressively larger gunships. In each stage you have to destroy practically everything in his fleet, breaking all the huge motherships and robot walkers into little pieces before he’ll submit to a retreat. Of course, that just means he’ll be back another day with even bigger contraptions. Through it all, you are only armed with a machine gun and three special “lock-on” weapons. If you prove to be a top-notch pilot, opportunities for a few upgrades are available, but for the most part, you have to make do with what you’re given.
What you’re given varies from ship to ship, too. Since there are three Gunners of Rive, there are three separate (but similar) quests to play through, which helps enhance the replay value. Each Gunner has different goals, also. While Femme might be ordered to take out airborne fighters, Ciel and Copain must guard an allied convoy. Though there are slight differences among the fighters, the main functions of each Gunner are the same: One button fires machine guns, another provides the all-important speed boost, and then, finally, there are your special lock-on weapons: Fireworks, Dog, and Cross. Fireworks unleash a beautiful (and destructive) eponymous display that can take out entire formations with its ordnance. On the other hand, Dog missiles don’t do any damage at all, but hobble enemy weapons, making them sitting ducks. Cross is best reserved for bigger foes. When first fired, they will not explode, but embed themselves into the enemy’s hull. In this way, you can actually send off a volley of Crosses and skewer the enemy silly. Then, with a little tap of your machine gun, set them all off for a fiery cataclysm.
Behind the game’s shoot-em-up action is a bit of extra strategy that provides rewards to practiced players. See, every shot you fire costs money. Sure, you might be saving the world (or at least France) from a criminal genius, but your boss is still a penny pincher. Every machine gun bullet costs a dollar, and the special weapons are even more expensive. If you get shot down, you can mash the buttons rapidly to regain control, but that’ll really drain your pocketbook fast, so fly carefully! Making money is the other half of the strategy. Shooting down baddies naturally nets you cash, but the key to making money (which is, essentially, your score), is to set up combos and chains. Explosions can set off other explosions, and that will send the multiplier soaring. Good scores will let you in on those better engines and new weapons, not to mention some hidden characters and other game enhancing goodies.
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