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KOF Sky Stage (Xbox 360) artwork

KOF Sky Stage (Xbox 360) review

"The first time I stumbled onto this game, I was confused. KOF Sky Stage? DLC for The King of Fighters XII? A side game where all the fighters died and are throwing down in the afterlife? When I dug further, I was stunned: a vertical shoot'em up featuring characters from the fighting series. One of those cases where fact is stranger than fiction."

The first time I stumbled onto this game, I was confused. KOF Sky Stage? DLC for The King of Fighters XII? A side game where all the fighters died and are throwing down in the afterlife? When I dug further, I was stunned: a vertical shoot'em up featuring characters from the fighting series. One of those cases where fact is stranger than fiction. Stranger yet, you won't be controlling Terry Bogard in a jet, or navigating a spaceship with Mai Shiranui inside, as the fighters actually have been given the power to fly of their own will! The franchise has had titles branching off into other genres before, like the PlayStation RPG and the volleyball release for mobile devices, but this one took a hell of a leap.

However, if we gawked at every oddball idea that was incorporated into a video game, the industry wouldn't be where it is today. So I dove in with an open mind, especially when I noticed SNK hand development over to Moss, who made Raiden III and IV. Now I haven't played those two yet, but it's nice knowing SNK didn't try turning Sky Stage into a quick buck title, instead, allowing another company with some experience to handle the concept.

After playing through the first stage and a half, too, I felt SNK made a good decision, as my early impressions were favorable. My man Terry, selectable from a group of six (featuring Athena, Kyo, Iori, Kula, and Mai), flew through the skies over a city, destroying an army of mechanical orb-y ships of various designs and flaming bodies, with a steady, rapid stream of yellow projectiles. And whenever I got in a pinch, I had the usual shoot'em up staples, bombs and charged shots, to save me from the onslaught of bullets that littered the screen. Moss didn't shy away using elements from the main series, as you'll hear Terry spout his well-known gibberish, like "OKAY!", and when releasing a charged shot, he'll actually perform his trademark moves, like Burning Knuckles and Buster Wolf. You can even use a taunt that clears bullets from the screen, though it has a setback of temporarily making enemies more aggressive.

But the more I tried getting into Sky Stage, I realized I wasn't having as much fun as I should. There's a very limited set of enemies with the same attacks made for the game, which gets repeated beyond belief, and the backdrops are very tiring for a shoot'em up, featuring stuff like two cities, a train yard, and grassy fields, something you've seen done better a thousand times before. And even for a hell-bullet title, the game felt... strict? No, I'm looking for another word. Anal. Yeah, that's a tighter description. Naturally, games get progressively harder the closer you arrive to the end, but Moss, I guess, felt the need to go a bit crazy in this aspect. I'd chalk it up to bad design, because the screen becomes crowded with enemies, bullets, and bonus medals on a second to second basis, that not even your bombs, charged shots, and dodging skills can save you consistently. It's stupefying. I thought games like Ikaruga and Deathsmiles were a challenge when it came to dodging, but even those gave me a fighting chance!

The unusual difficulty is hard to explain, since Sky Stage functions like a typical shooter, except its elements feel slightly off. Charged attacks can help in a panic, due to their ability to cut through a row of projectiles without getting harmed, but the act of releasing one is a different story. There's this second between unleashing the attack and it actually registering where, for some reason, you're still vulnerable to abuse. I can't tell how many times a charged attack failed because a bullet struck my character a millisecond before it occurred. Even collecting medals become a hassle! Hundreds on top of hundreds of medals fall from destroyed enemies in every stage, and if you get hit once, the count resets back to zero. There's hardly a break with this game... Thankfully, you're eventually given unlimited continues, so the hardships are somewhat reduced.

The most frustrating thing about this product is that, for the sake of replay value, it's incredibly tough to completely beat the game. Sky Stage has two loops, and I'm positive most only ever reach the end of the first. The trick to reaching the second loop is to collect envelopes from brief character cameos in each stage, one of my favorites being Geese Howard falling from his tower. Now here's the annoying part: you have to collect all envelopes on one credit. Considering how unnecessarily hard Sky Stage becomes, this is a very masochistic goal to reach just for an extra boss fight and an achievement, even on the lowest difficulty setting. Well... you can kinda cheat due to an oversight on the dev team's part, but I'm talking about going about it the genuine way.

Moss' intentions were good, I'm sure, but because the way the game is designed, only the hardcore and the truly dedicated will get any mileage out of KOF Sky Stage. Everyone else will have to play on the easier difficulties to get some sort of satisfaction, and I doubt that's something they'll enjoy doing.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (April 10, 2012)

My earliest exposure to Dragon Ball Z was when the original Japanese broadcast was still airing, right in the middle of the Androids storyline. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard the English VAs and music for the first time.

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Linkamoto posted April 11, 2012:

Hey, call me weird, but you've got me oddly intrigued to play this game now. I know that wasn't your intent, considering the mediocre score, but it just seems so...hardcore. And I love me some hardcore gamin'. Good review here. Liked the flow and, again, your descriptions of the gameplay have given me the urge to play it, even if I don't get past the first loop. :P Cheers.
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dementedhut posted April 11, 2012:

Glad you liked reading about the game, and bringing it to your attention, too. For me, I dunno, I don't mind these crazy bullet shooters, but it just felt off here. You sound very interested in Sky Stage, so you might end up liking it, though.

Edit: If you have a PS3 or PSP, I think I read somewhere that the follow-up, Neo Geo Heroes: Ultimate Shooting, which also has KOF Sky Stage as an optional game, is available for download in the PlayStation Store. I heard the game is much more expansive than its predecessor.
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Linkamoto posted April 12, 2012:

I don't have either Sony platform, so a purchase on the old 36o is looming for me. Thanks for the info.

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