SkyRacket Review

Developer: Double Dash // Publisher: Double Dash // Price: $14.99 (eShop/Steam)
Review copy received from publisher

Indie game developers are constantly developing games that provide unique experiences.  Genre mash-ups have recently found the spotlight, often merging two unrelated genres into a single game.  SkyRacket contains concepts of a brick breaker and a shoot ’em up (shmup), two ideas that seemingly contradict each other.  While brick breakers expect players to engage projectiles and shmups expect players to avoid projectiles altogether.  Despite the conflict of genres, Double Dash Studios manages to combine these ideas into an interesting game.

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Gameplay

SkyRacket provides players with the choice of playing as RacketBoy or RacketGirl.  Two player local co-op is supported with each player controlling one of the characters.  Instead of letting a ball bounce off of the character (as would normally happen in a brick breaker game), the characters must swing their racket to deflect projectiles.  Players are not penalized when the ball goes off screen behind them, unlike typical brick breaker games.  This is a blessing because it is nearly impossible to avoid bullets and hit the ball back up the field.  Since SkyRacket is part shmup, there are plenty of bullets to smack and turn into a ball to break the bricks and attack enemies.  Almost every bullet type is strikeable and even some enemies can be turned into projectiles by swatting them as well.  There is an adjustment period to understand what can be hit by the racket and what needs to be dodged.  Just like a brick breaker, where the ball is struck by the racket will determine the angle in which it flies back up the field.  Striking the bullet near the head of the character for example, would be like hitting a ball of the end of the paddle in a game like Arkanoid, making the ball angle toward the sides of the field instead of straight ahead.  It’s best not to attempt hitting every bullet; doing so will inevitably end up in damage to RocketBoy or RocketGirl.  I found sometimes the best strategy (especially against bosses) is to pick your shots and dodge everything else.

To add to the gameplay, buddies can be unlocked.  Buddies provide additional powers to use during a level, like extra firepower or shields, but after each use, there is a small recharge delay before the buddy can be used again.  In levels near the end of the game, buddies become practically essential to completing the level.

There is plenty of replay value as well.  By completing achievements, new modes can be unlocked such as 1 Credit Clear, a mode which tasks players to complete the game with one life and no health restores between levels.  Be prepared though; it’s going to take some major skills to complete most of the achievements.

Crazy Idea = Crazy Game

SkyRacket is one of the oddest games I’ve ever played.  The shmup and brick breaker combo itself is unique and ultimately, is what led to me trying the game, but Double Dash didn’t stop there.  A crazy concept needs crazy enemies such as cat hoagies, ducks in pool floaties, attacking bananas, and a tanooki luchador to name a few.  This game is completely bonkers at times. In some levels, there is so much on the screen that it becomes difficult to see the dangers. Between enemies, bullet and stars (which increase combo multipliers for points), it can be a bit of a mess on-screen.  On more than one occasion, I took damage from an errant bullet that came from a direction I wasn’t expecting because I was too busy concentrating on dodging bullets coming from a different direction.  Sometimes, I would stay in the corner trying to ride it out until things calmed down, just hitting the bullets coming toward me to survive instead of trying to progress through the level.  This detracted from my enjoyment a little, but these situations were not common and didn’t last very long.

No Boredom Here

The levels in SkyRacket have a lot of variety.  The game starts off as a a more traditional type of brick breaker, giving players areas where the progression pauses so players have an opportunity to break all of the blocks.  This gives players a chance to play with the mechanics at a slower pace which is necessary because things ramp up in a hurry.  By the end of the first world, SkyRacket evolves into more of a shmup with bullets flying everywhere and no pauses for a breather.  As players get deeper into the game, they will encounter mini bosses, levels that simulate pinball and a boss battle that turns into a game of Pong.  Because of this, the game never gets old.  Something new is constantly added to the mix to make the game feel fresh.

Son of a Mother F…

I lost count of the number of times I wanted to break my controller while playing SkyRacket.  The difficulty spikes drastically as the game progresses.   Restarting levels becomes a common activity, especially when there are no save points within a level.  The boss of world 4, Tennistar, was so difficult, I contacted Double Dash to see if there was something wrong with my copy of the game.  It seems like some of the later levels and bosses were designed to be played a certain way and if not played that way it becomes near impossible to finish the level.  Assist mode is available for those that want a little help.  This allows the player to select a buddy with extra power to use for the level.  Sadly, even with assist mode on, a single hit causes the buddy to disappear which isn’t helpful.  God mode is also available which prevents all damage to the character.  I’m not embarrassed to admit I used it during the final boss sequence just so I could have full health as I attempted to defeat the final boss’s last form since there was no health refill.

Another area of frustration for me was the hit detection for striking bullets.  On numerous occasions I found myself swatting at a bullet and watching it smack me in the face instead of rocketing across the screen toward enemies.  The bullet deflection is dependent upon the swing of the racket and there is no clear indicator on how wide the swath of the swing is.  And, if the racket misses the bullet, there isn’t enough time to try again as the ball can only be hit by the front edge of the racket.  It would have been helpful if a hit was registered when any part of the racket struck the bullet.

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Final Verdict

SkyRacket is a blast to play most of the time.  The mash-up of brick breaker and shoot ’em up works better than I imagined, and the weird enemies give this game a lot of character.  Unfortunately, the difficulty ramps up to a point that the game becomes a grind near the end.  The later levels require near superhuman skills (or assist mode) to make it to the end and defeat the boss.  Thankfully, Double Dash added some assistance options so that everyone has a chance to see everything SkyRacket has to offer.

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