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Skyblazer (SNES) artwork

Skyblazer (SNES) review

"Great to look at, decent to play."

I didn't get around to playing Skyblazer near its release, even though I thought it looked interesting. Normally, this would be the part of my review where I either talk about how great the game is and how I feel like a big idiot for not making acquiring it an actual priority, or utterly lambast it while talking about how I really dodged a bullet back in the day. But a typical "good" or "bad" verdict is too simple in this particular case. That's because the experience contains both the dizzying highs of a true great and the stunning lows of bargain basement trash destined for obscurity.

Rather than employing a horribly generic "save the princess, dude!" setup, the game uses Hinduism as its lore's foundation. In short: you control the heroic Garuda as he attempts, with the aid of the elderly Brahma, to rescue the fair Vishnu after the evil Ashura kidnaps her to give to his demonic master, Ravana. Or, since we're talking about the American port and Nintendo of America tended to not be keen on religious references in games on their systems, it's an arrogant young guy named Sky getting help from a snarky, unnamed old man to rescues Ariana the sorceress from Ashura and his demonic master, Raglan. Why is Ashura allowed to keep his name while others are stuck with new ones, anyway? Is it because Ashura is a bastardization of Asura and, therefore, falls into the "not really a religious name" loophole that also possibly helped sneak the wily fellow into the first two Final Fantasy Legends games, as well? Did Nintendo have a secret As(h)ura worshiper on staff who was determined to sneak his or her patron demon into any game possible? We may never know.

Skyblazer (SNES) image

So, yeah, that whole "not just any old 'save the princess, dude' game" thing I mentioned crashed with a resounding thud, since it's kind of hard to sell the Hinduism angle when it only shows up in one character's name and in some of the game's artwork. Despite this being a Super Nintendo game, I have no qualms about referring to its graphics as "artwork". This is one of the more beautiful games on the system, consisting of well over a dozen stages, with most being easily differentiated from the rest. Bosses are large, equally varied and well-drawn. Even a lot of the random cannon-fodder enemies look nice, with creepy eyeball monsters and sinister mages lurking all over the place. The SNES' Mode 7 effect is even used with good results in a couple of stages and boss fights. Graphically, this is about as good as it got during the 16-bit era.

It's also pretty fun to progress though the game's world. You move around paths on a world map, entering levels when your avatar comes into contact with the corresponding icons. Some of these levels are short and very linear stages, while others are larger and more complex venues that tend to host this game's boss fights. After clearing a few stages, you'll likely come across a small hut containing that old man, serving as He Who Delivers Passwords and also occasionally increasing Sky's life meter.

Skyblazer (SNES) image

While fighting the hordes of monsters present throughout the entire game, Sky primarily uses short range attacks to pummel and kick his foes to death. For instances where that might not sufficient, which happens often because many enemies are positioned in hard-to-kick locations such as upon narrow platforms, he'll rely on a number of magic spells he collects by completing some levels. Most of these improve Sky's offense by giving him attacks that can hit foes more than an inch away from him. Some have other uses, such as the very handy heal spell. Even though your magic meter is only eight units long and several spells cost at least two of those, you'll still have plenty of opportunities to utilize magic thanks to refills you can find scattered throughout the levels, as well as the occasional health boost and tons of gems that go toward extra lives.

In some ways, the large variety in this game's stages is a great selling point, but in other ways, it's a bit of a weakness because the quality of those stages is pretty uneven. On one hand, you'll have different challenges in each stage and no two truly feel the same, so if you find a particular stage annoying, you'll likely not have to deal with anything quite like that again. There's only one "confusing maze" stage: a forest where you can go both left or right at the beginning and have to find the correct doors to advance to the end. And if you hated a particular underwater fortress where you have to swim around and hit switches to alter water currents in order to progress further, just endure it and you'll likely get something far more tolerable in a few minutes.

Skyblazer (SNES) image

On the flip-side, of course, there is the simple truth that you'll also only spend brief periods of time within those fun stages, as well. When they're gone, you won't see anything like them again. The double-edged sword of "lots of variety" raises its ugly head when you've cleared a couple fun fortresses and tough "interlude" stages between them and then get stuck wandering aimlessly through that forest maze until you either get lucky or break down and run to the Internet to figure out just how to progress through the damn thing!

Bosses showcase that same sort of "for good or for bad" variety. You'll have a fun battle against a genie whose only vulnerable spot is his lamp and a thrilling duel with a dragon on top of narrow platforms jutting out from a tower. You'll also smash a face protruding from a wall that occasionally uses Mode 7 to rotate, forcing you to jump or kneel to safety pass through holes in the structure. On the surface, there should be nothing wrong with that fight, but this game's hit detection can be a little off at times, making it so that you can be caught between the wall and the side of the screen in mid-jump and instantly killed even though it looks like your entire body should be in the hole. Oh, and speaking of bosses, regardless of whether you like them or not, you WILL see them more times than you'd like. This is one of the countless games that felt its final stage NEEDED one of those accursed boss rushes to act as a roadblock between you and the dynamic duo of Ashura and Raglan.

Skyblazer (SNES) image

Boss rush and uneven quality of challenges aside, this is the sort of game I would have been happy to own back in the 90s. It was beautiful for its time and offered a lot of variety. Even if I didn't like a particular stage, it at least looked good enough for me to want to play through it and see what new challenge was around the next corner. Playing it now, though, my feelings were a bit more lukewarm. Games have advanced so much on a technical level that great-looking SNES games don't thrill me like they used to, which left me noticing how some stages just weren't fun or how I seemed to be suffering questionable hits or deaths against certain bosses more than I might have once upon a time. While I wouldn't call Skyblazer a true classic, it is a pretty fun title that is at least worth checking out because its good aspects provide a respectable amount of quality entertainment.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 09, 2019)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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Masters posted April 09, 2019:

Nice review of a game I don't remember as well as I thought I did. I do have fond memories of it, but they're pretty fuzzy.

Some typos:

This is one of the countless games that felt its final stage NEEDED one of those accursed boss rushes to act as a roadblock being you and the dynamic duo of Ashura and Raglan.


And this:

Even if I didn't like a particular stage, the rest of the campaign was at least look good enough for me to want to play through it and see what was around the next corner.

Anyway, it's an even-handed look at a near-classic that you've come across too late to hold in that kind of esteem. You've made me want to replay it!
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overdrive posted April 10, 2019:

Thanks for those catches, Marc, as I won this week's Golden EmP award for prolific typos! The first one seemed to have gotten past both myself and proofreader Jason. The second seemed to be a case of me missing him trying to make something read more smoothly, slightly changing what I was trying to say and, apparently, not taking out all of my words before putting his in. Which makes sense (for me to miss it), as I didn't get around to writing this review until probably a month after finishing the game, so it was a chore to write and by the time I finished it and Jason got it back to me, I had no interest in reading it word-for-word after how grueling it was to simply write those words in the first place.
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hastypixels posted April 10, 2019:

Grueling perhaps, but you did a good job of getting across what you enjoyed about it. I've taken several swings at this one, but keep dropping out in that stage where you have to jump on a succession of floating platforms that ferry you around spike laden walls. It's that inconsistent level design that gets me, in the end.
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overdrive posted April 12, 2019:

Oh yeah, there are a few areas that were definite teeth-gnashers. I think my least favorite was during a tower level fairly early in the game where you have to jump across a series of platforms that would recede into the tower. The timing you needed...phew! But it's hard to get too enraged at a game that gives that kind of variety. I mean, when you think about it, how often do you get games that have different challenges every level. Battletoads did it, although that game was even more murderously difficult to advance through to actually see those challenges, but most games have a certain amount of variety and then recycle those items in tougher variations later in the game.

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