When I was a wee lad in the late 80’s my local Public House contained a couple of arcade machines that captivated me. Every Sunday when I had an opportunity there, I would watch and stare at the adults that pumped in coins to play Outrun or a top down shooter that could be played by either 1 or 2 players. The name of the game escapes me but you weren’t controlling space ships, planes or people, but Helicopters in a top down vertically scrolling shooter! I fell in love and pumped any money I could prise out of my parents pockets into the cabinet whenever I could.
Ever since then I get a strange enjoyment from games that have contained playable helicopters, Desert, Jungle, Urban, Soviet and Nuclear Strike being the obvious choices, Red Zone for the Mega Drive was also a massive favourite of mine, and more recently Choplifter HD and Under Defeat have prised my attention away from other AAA offerings. So imagine my glee when I saw Blue Skies appear on the PlayStation Mobile store!
Blue Skies is a top down air combat simulation title from Rocking Pocket Games that has you taking on an airforce of trouble. The game has two modes available from the off, Story and Arcade, that offer different experiences depending on your mood.
The main story mode has your character training to fly a Helicopter in an academy of sorts. I’d like to think of it as a sort of Top Gun academy for Helicopter pilots. Here you learn the basics before your training is interrupted by a series of villainous foes that wish to engage you in a series of battles that test your abilities against air and land based enemies. The premise is pretty straight forward. Battles take place within an arena of sorts that is clearly marked out with a bold red line, not the most immersive way of keeping you in the correct area but it does at least work. Enemies are gradually introduced through the stages and include aerial threats from zeppelins, Helicopters and a small selection of jet fighters to land based threats in the shape of tanks and mines. destroying these enemies is pretty straight forward using the L and R buttons which represent your air to air missiles or air to ground bombs. These weapons are not infinite and you will need to replenish these every once in a while. Firing your weapons is not always a case of fire and forget as your aircrafts momentum can sway your shots further in the direction you are or were travelling in. This can be frustrating when you are trying to maneauvor quickly and does mean that accuracy plays a massive role in your attack strategy.
Destroying each enemy grants you a power up of sorts which range from fuel, ammo and cash. Collecting cash goes towards your reserves which can be used at any time to purchase upgrades for weapons or extra lives, which you can purchase by landing at a helipad. This action also refills your fuel and life gauges which need to be watched carefully to ensure you stay in the air. The story part of the game comes between missions where you are presented with anime styled characters that engage in a very limited conversation about how they are much better than you and that’s about it. War and Peace this most certainly isn’t!
The Arcade mode, on the other hand, gets you into the action faster and with a fully upgraded machine at your fingertips. Here you can just let rip and concentrate on dealing death to all around you, this is my favoured mode as it is instantly accesable and seems to play at a faster pace to the story mode. The only upgrade that you will need to purchase are extra lives, and this can be done at any point throughout the mode.
You can use either the more traditional D-pad or make use of the Vita’s built in gyroscope to control your chopper’s movements. Getting used to the gyroscopic controls does take a little getting used to but if you prefer less tilting you can always use the D-pad and this option wont let you down. Weapons are handled with the 2 shoulder buttons, one for air to air and one for air to ground. To be fair the controls are extremely simple even if you decide to use the gyroscope for movement.
Graphics are 2D top down shooter style as you would expect from most top down shooters from the late 80’s. The vehicles all look good enough without having any real detail but some seem a little too basic to the point where a little niggle I had was rather than a tank turret moving to track your movements, the whole tank moves around and that just seems a little odd to me! The environment also seems generic and so far I haven’t seen any change in the environment from the 1st chapter to the 9th. Clouds on the other hand do look good when they appear and their inclusion is not just aesthetic as they can briefly hide your enemies from view which adds a little to the gameplay but not enough to make it really interesting. However the Heads Up Display looks extremely basic and unattractive but it is functional.
Sound is limited with no background music to speak of but you get plenty of basic sound effects that do the job they are meant to, nothing flash but solid all the same.
In my time with the game, I found that short 1 level bursts can dish out some fun now and again, however the later levels do become extremely monotonous and prolonged play really grinds you down and saps any fun you may have started to feel for the game. It is a real shame as it feels like the basic parts are all present and correct, but the game feels like its lacking any real character or a soul. Arcade mode is definitely the highlight as it is simple fun but the story mode just doesn’t work as well for me.
In my final opinion then as a casual game Blue Skies works fine enough, and to be fair mobile games generally are aimed squarely at the casual market, but if you are looking for any real depth or, to put it another way, if you are looking for something resembling any of the strike games I mentioned above, then be warned here and now. You will not find that here!
At A Glance
- Title: Blue Skies
- Publisher: Rocking Pocket Games
- System: PlayStation Mobile
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Needed: 44Mb