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SkyGunner
Review By:  Jared Black
Developer:  Atlus
Publisher:  Atlus
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Shooter
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  6-27-02

Every game should feel like this. If you've been playing games for any length of time, you know exactly the feeling I'm talking about. The feeling that you're playing something unique, inventive, and just downright fun. SkyGunner, despite some technical problems, is just plain fun. That's what really matters, right?

SkyGunner follows the adventures of three gunners - Femme, Ciel, and Copain - as they attempt to put an end to the evil Ventre's attempts to steal the Eternal Engine (which can basically run forever). There are a couple primary differences between this game and most shooters. First, the camera functions in a different manner. Instead of following the player, the camera instead pans so that it almost always shows the player and whatever current target is locked in. So even if the player is going in an entirely different direction, the camera will still face the current target. It sounds like it would be extremely confusing, but in fact it works quite well. One main reason is because, instead of crashing into objects in the environment, the player will merely automatically steer around it. Therefore, there's no danger in crashing into oncoming objects that the player was unable to see. It does take some getting used to, but once the player becomes accustomed to it it works wonderfully. One of the better camera systems found in any game, not just the shooter genre.

Secondly, which gunner the player chooses determines the skill level. While each gunner plays out the same storyline, each has a vastly different perspective on the action with different tasks to carry out. Femme is considered the easy level, since her plane has a quick turn function that really helps out a new player adjusting to the unique camera system and controls. Ciel has air brakes and a heavy fire attack, and finally Copain can perform the Vortex (a series of barrel rolls that provide temporary invincibility). While each gunner has basically the same attacks (machine gun and three secondary weapons), there are also a couple additional secondary weapons to be discovered.

Graphically, SkyGunner is a marvel. Featuring a mixture of anime clichés and an early 20th century technology look (for example, characters communicate via telephones), this game looks like no other game before it.  In fact, the closest game it reminds me of is Skies of Arcadia, and it really looks nothing like that. Characters are cute, deformed, and have other anime features like big eyes that match their spiky hair and finger-less hands. Huge ships and robots fill up the screen, each with several independent (and destructible) moving parts. Smaller ships are animated well also, although it's hard to tell it unless you get really close. The city below is incredibly detailed, even including some cars and other objects moving about the city as you dogfight up above. Textures sometimes look like they were pulled from a Dreamcast game, but that's understandable given the sheer amount of objects that the game engine needs to keep up with.

This also leads to SkyGunner's only real problem, as the framerate is incredibly erratic. Whenever a large number of things appear on-screen, the framerate can dip into almost-single digit numbers. Most of the time it's merely annoying, but every once in a while it does negatively impact gameplay. It's hard to aim at something when you can barely move…if you've ever played a PC game with requirements that were a bit too steep for your machine, you know what I'm talking about. Atlus did include a "uniform processing" option that locks the game in at a steady 30fps, but the result is a HUGE loss in graphic quality. On my TV scan lines were clearly visible across the screen, resulting in a huge number of jaggies and a general degradation of graphic quality. The game also runs slower than it normally does when the framerate is steady. Finally it also has to be unlocked, meaning that by the time it's available it looks incredibly ugly after the graphic splendor the player is used to. I'm glad Atlus went the extra mile and included it (it wasn't in the Japanese version), but I definitely prefer the default variable processing mode.

The sound is great. The soundtrack has an epic feel to it, delivering more subdued tunes during normal action and intensifying whenever a boss or other major event is encountered. It suits the action perfectly, and really helps to draw the player into the action. The sound effects are good as well, with nice clanks when bullets hit metal and individual effects for each special weapon. Bosses and huge ships get louder as you approach different parts of the ship. Atlus even included both the Japanese and English voice acting, and both sound perfectly acceptable. I'll take the language I can understand thank you very much, even if it sounds a bit forced when compared to the original Japanese dialogue.

HIGHS:

  • The soundtrack has an epic feel to it, and Atlus was kind enough to include the Japanese voice acting.
  • The unique camera perspective allows the action to continually flow at a fast and furious pace.
  • The artwork and in-game graphics are unique and gorgeous. If you're a fan of this style (and I am), this is graphic heaven.
  • Optional uniform processing mode smoothes out the framerate, but the trade off is pretty ugly. Kudos to Atlus for giving us the choice.

LOWS:

  • Pick your poison - framerate that can at times dip down to a near-unplayable state, or the loss of so much graphic splendor.
  • The look certainly isn't for everyone.
  • The storyline is very short, although the option to play through it with multiple characters (each with his/her own objectives) gives it more replay value than expected.

FINAL VERDICT:

Despite the framerate issues and relative brevity of the storyline, SkyGunner comes highly recommended to anyone who doesn't hate the graphic style.  The characters are lovable, the gameplay is stellar, and you've probably never played anything like it before.

Overall Score: 7.9

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