Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 06/24/02 | Genre: Shooter
Sony released a title that became a pretty big hit in Japan. However, for some reason, they decided to not localize the title for the US market. Coming to the rescue of gamers in the US, Atlus quickly snatched up the rights to release Sky Gunner. Sky Gunner is one of the best shooters I have played in a long time. While classic shooters in the genre have all been 2D games, Sky Gunner is a 3D shooter. There may be a few problems with the game. However, overall, this is the best shooter we have seen in a very long time.
Before we continue on, I must stress that this is a 3D shooter that has a very good camera system! While there will always be '2D purists' who refuse to acknowledge that 3D cannot compare to 2D, I must admit that I was completely shocked at how well the camera performs. Specifically, the way it works is when your ship is locked on to an enemy, the camera is fixed on them with a circle around them so you cannot miss them. While the camera is locked, you are free to maneuver until you get in position to go for the kill. You can also rotate the targets by hitting the triangle button. After destroying your current target, the camera will rotate to the next closest enemy.
When you begin play, you can choose between two characters: Ciel and Femme. After beating the game and achieving certain requirements, you can unlock a third playable character--Copain. Each character has their own variation of the story. This provides a slightly different experience when playing as another character. However, no matter who you choose, for the majority of the game, the computer AI will control the other two fighters while you attempt to accomplish your objective for the level. At the end of the level, the scores are added up and you will be competing against the AI controlled allies for the top score.
Unfortunately, Sky Gunner is a relatively short game. Spanning 5 Chapters, the game will probably be over within a few hours of play. However, just because you have gone through the game doesn't mean you have done all there is to do. Depending on how you do in battles, there can be different outcomes.
The story is told through backgrounds using the game's engine and 2D paintings. Words appear on the screen with and the voice actors begin to speak the words on the screen. The way the story is presented, I felt I was watching an interactive comic book. However, I would have preferred the game to use anime cinemas like in the introduction to the game (before the title screen appears). I must admit that all of the English voice actors are great. But Atlus wasn't just content to add English voices. No, they included the original Japanese version with English subtitles. If you are a fan of Japanese Anime, then you probably are aware that the subs are almost always better than the dubs. The same is true for Sky Gunner. Hopefully we will see more publishers including features like this in the future.
Graphically, Sky Gunner uses bright visuals with cute character design in large worlds with big bosses. Problems do begin to arise when there lots of these cute characters and large bosses get on the screen at one time and everyone fires their weapons. When this happens, the action within Sky Gunner slows to a crawl. Things become so slow that you wonder if the game is going to lock up. Don't worry, this only happens for a small time and when some of the enemies are killed, the gameplay speeds back up to the normal frame rate. To try and resolve this problem, Atlus included a way to play Sky Gunner at a lower resolution. I personally don't enjoy this mode because it makes the graphics look so much worse. However, the levels are so big and long, with multiple bosses in each level, that you will usually need a break. When the slowdown comes, take a deep breath, wait a few seconds, and continue the action. Remember, the faster you kill the enemies, the less likely the slowdown will come.
There are two different types of control methods: Normal and Advanced. Because the game's controls are so sensitive, I found it very difficult to use the Advanced controls. I played the majority of my time with the Normal controls and used the D-Pad. Under the Normal control setting, the X button will speed you up, triangle changes targets, square shoots, L1 changes your special weapon, and R1 swings your ship around so you fly in the opposite direction. This control method keeps the action simple so you can concentrate on the gameplay.
Overall, Sky Gunner is the best shooter we have seen in recent years. While I would have loved to give this game an A, the slowdown issues and short length of the game caused me to rank this one slightly below an A. However, don't let that stop you from trying this title out. You will have a tough time finding a shooter this good on the market today. Atlus, thanks for localizing this title for the US market!