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Captain Skyhawk (NES) artwork

Captain Skyhawk (NES) review


"To play the game well, you’ll have to adapt to the rapidly-changing environment. Glide left past one hill, then quickly rebound to the right as an imposing rock wall threatens to turn your aircraft into a charred stain. The whole time, you’ll have to keep an eye on the surface. Alien vehicles fire shots from the ground, star-shaped projectiles that will cause you to burst into flames if you should happen to collide with them."



An alien menace has its sights set on Earth, and there’s only one person who can stop the world from slipping into eternal chaos: you. Your name is the same as that of the game in question, Captain Skyhawk, and you’re piloting a huge jet fighter armed to the teeth with bombs, missiles and cannons. In fact, you have just about everything you’ll need to stop the alien threat in its tracks. Everything but the option to buy those additional continues you’ll probably want as the game nears its conclusion.

Developed by Rare, Captain Skyhawk really is a bit of an adrenaline rush. Though you could in theory classify it as a vertical shooter, the game somehow feels like just the tiniest bit more. Mountains slope to your left and right as you launch from the first landing pad, a perpetual border that keeps you horizontally constrained as you rush ever upward. However, there are other ways to move. Press ‘up’ or ‘down’ and your plane will soar or swoop. This comes into play immediately, as there are short, pyramid-like hills scattered across the map.

To play the game well, you’ll have to adapt to the rapidly-changing environment. Glide left past one hill, then quickly rebound to the right as an imposing rock wall threatens to turn your aircraft into a charred stain. The whole time, you’ll have to keep an eye on the surface. Alien vehicles fire shots from the ground, star-shaped projectiles that will cause you to burst into flames if you should happen to collide with them. Because of this, you’ll constantly be on the move, drilling everything that moves with a steady stream of bullets or bombs.

Then you reach the end of that first area. A monstrous structure awaits you. Four pods form the edges of a diamond-shaped mound of metal, with another lying protected at the center. You weave back and forth, firing shots and never hesitating for fear that you’ll make yourself to simple a target. In the end, the structure explodes and you race skyward, triumphant.

But don’t celebrate too quickly.

The next area is a behind-the-jet affair. Planes race toward you as you weave up and down, left and right while the horizon teeters precariously in the distance. Fire quickly and you’ll take down another plane. Fail to do so and it will scream away into the distance, until it’s no more than a speck and finally has disappeared entirely. Survive the onslaught and you might start smiling.

Yet still, the area has not ended. Your fuel is running low, and now you must dock with your one haven, the space station. The docking bay spins slowly and you feel your finger growing slick with sweat. If you dive too soon, you’ll crash just short of your objective. Wait too long and you’ll do the same. Only superior timing will bring you home to your garage.

And what a garage it is! At least, early in the game. It’s here that the credits you earned for your hard-fought successes come into play. The clever player will outfit his plane immediately with improvements to the cannon shots. Only then will he turn his attention to the other bombs available for purchase, as they’re hardly necessary to complete the game. Before long, credits become useless as there’s nothing left to buy.

But we’re not that far yet. We’ve only destroyed one of the alien bases, and there are three that remain before we can finally defeat the mother ship. Not only that, but we still have to assemble a weapon strong enough to pierce its powerful barrier. To do that, we’ll need to get our ground troops some supplies. Of course, this means flying over hostile territory.

So begins the second stage. It’s much like the first, but with no alien structure at the end. Instead, you’ll fly over a small range of yellow mountains (a welcome change of pace after the green ones in the previous stage) with the goal of dropping two relief packages. Miss a hole and the only way you can try again is to make another pass. Therefore, timing is vital as you’re distracted by hillier terrain and the added threat of volcanic activity. Chunks of lava can down your plain just as surely as alien bullets.

If it sounds exciting, it definitely is. At least, as long as the game lasts. However, Captain Skyhawk isn’t that lengthy an affair. This is perhaps for the best. Whether you’re dropping parcels in holes, destroying a base, racing an alien aircraft or even picking up one of the two scientists in the game, one mission doesn’t feel all that different from the next. The only thing that keeps you going is the increasing sense of danger as stages scroll more quickly, mountains rise from the surface more fiercely and planes send more bombs your direction.

It works for me. If not for the Captain Skyhawk’s limited supply of continues, it might not take you more than 20 minutes or so to complete. The game just isn’t long at all. Perhaps that’s why the developers at Rare chose to limit your supply. Even still, the mission is short enough that those with good reflexes and the ability to adjust to the sometimes-spotty hit detection (the NES was, after all, a system designed for only two-dimensional games) will probably blaze through it on a single sitting. The end result is a game that fans of odd little retro shooters will likely find terrific. Then, after an hour or so of enjoyment, they’ll almost certainly forget it even exists until they re-discover it years later and fall in love all over again. If you haven’t already, give it a shot today. Adrenaline rushes like this one don’t come often enough by half.

Rating: 9/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 24, 2005)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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