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Thursday, 26 April 2018

Review: Sky Rogue

Dive In: Sky Rogue

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Sky Rogue
Fractal Phase | Nintendo Switch | Digital Only
1-2 Players (Local Only)
Reviewed by: Curtis Chapman

Developers Commentary by: Kenny Backus - Fractal Phase

* Review Code Provided by: Fractal Phase *

Nintendo Play is joined by Kenny Backus , Lead Developer at Fractal Phase, for the included Developers Commentary.

Strap in, take off and feel the need for speed in Fractal Phase’s newest aerial combat title Sky Rogue. Out today on the eShop for £14.99, does the mix of rogue-lite arcade action make this title a true Top Gun, or is it destined to the travel the unprofitable highway into the danger zone?

Rogue-Lite has been used for some time to describe a perma-death game mechanic that draws inspiration from the OG title that shares the same name. Providing the player light relief throughout their countless deaths and restarts, it allows them to carry over items, skills or currency from their previous attempt, creating a positive feedback loop that essentially has the player pushing further and further through the game’s content in hopes of eventually reaching the finish line. One of the main hurdles in attempting to create a rogue-lite title is finding a way to attach an engaging narrative to a mechanic that essentially see’s you failing more often than not, and while some have succeeded others have either failed miserably or simply not bothered to include one at all.

Sky Rogue is a rogue-lite aerial combat action arcade title sadly falls into the latter category, with the game not only providing no narrative throughout the entire game but also not feeling the need to include an overall framing device to give you any context into why you are flying around the sky, shooting down drones and bombing bases. Even giving the player reasoning behind their actions would create a connection that would provide the player with greater satisfaction in their successes.

Developers Commentary
Kenny: Having no explicit story was very intentional. It is a common thing in the action flight sim niche (ace combat, hawx, etc) to have a frankly very bad story which gets in the way of gameplay and worsens the experience. I was looking to distinguish myself from the pack. There is a narrative but it's only hinted at in aeropedia descriptions but otherwise left to the players' imagination.

Sky Rogue Screenshot 1

With an arcade-like look, that is to say, how it would’ve looked if you frequented your local arcade from 1993-1996, the super low polygon count on all of the game’s 3D models and the colour palette that could possibly be counted on two hands look to draw inspiration from classic arcade titles produced by SegaAM, more specifically, anything with “Virtua” as its titles prefix. The art-style is complimented nicely with the equally inspired soundtrack, hoping to cement in the players' mind exactly the type of game that they are playing.

Fwoosh; the movement of an object at high speed, often referred to when describing the sound an aircraft makes as it passes you by and is the adjective that Fractal Phase has decided to use to define Sky Rogues fast pace and relentless action as you zip through the air. It’s safe to say that this was the right choice in wording as the feeling of breakneck speed while you bank hard to try and get positioned at and enemies flank is often a hard one to replicate and has been achieved perfectly in the game.

In the main campaign, you are treated to a brief tutorial before being thrust off your flying base into onto a procedurally generated map consisting of several islands dotted with military installations. You are given a random mission which usually involves destroying specific enemy planes or leveling installations and you are then left to your own devices to achieve this task.

Developers Commentary
Kenny: We wanted to respect players' curiosity and let them have the enjoyment of figuring out how to play well themselves. Through in-person playtesting we found ways of teaching players the critically important stuff outside the tutorial, but mostly kept our hands off. Every player is different and some might enjoy a bit more guidance, so we may have let some people down, but we really tried our best to only be as hands-on as seemed necessary.

Each mission can take as little as a minute to complete, though the length and difficulty of these missions increases as you progress through your play through. Once you have completed your mission you are free to return to base, though mopping up the remaining buildings and planes to earn credits and tech points, the two forms of currency in Sky Rogue, is advisable to aid in your progress. Hanging around after finishing a mission quickly becomes a balancing act between increasing the number of credits and tech points you currently have and ensuring that you have enough health to make you return to base safely.

When returning to base you are able to either spend your obtained credits on upgrading your available weapons or swap them out completely to better suit your play style. While you can mix and match the weapons to your heart’s content, each contains two weight stats that need to be balanced with your current ships weight limit. After you have finished tinkering the game moves to the next day and a new mission is generated, with the loop repeated continuously until the conclusion of the game.

Sky Rogue Screenshot 2

On your (frequent) death, your upgrades are stripped from your ship and your tech points are added to a research bar that, once filled, earns you a point to use to select a new weapon or ship to add to your arsenal of available ordinance you can choose to enter battle with next time. The overall gameplay loop is quick, action-packed and thoroughly enjoyable and although enemy AI isn’t particularly engaging it will be hard to notice this due to the constant trickle of enemies buzzing around overhead, firing missiles at you as you try and complete your objective.

Also containing an Endless and Free Flight mode, Fractal Phase has attempted to give the illusion of added content while keeping things pretty much exactly the same. Apart from a few tweaks to gameplay, there is little reason incentive to deviate from the normal mode unless you do not enjoy a particular element of the main campaign.

Developers Commentary
Kenny: The other modes were requested by players during Steam Early Access. You're not missing anything though; Endless is simply a way of playing the game without an endboss and Free Flight is a way to play if you just want to fly around without being shot at. The latter is a common feature in flight simulators so maybe that's why it was requested, though it may seem a bit weird in an action-focused game.

As well as the single player game modes, there is also the option to tackle the games main campaign with a friend in 2 player local co-op, giving you more of the same with the added threat of friendly fire. Additional multiplayer modes such as player-vs-player mode would have been a welcomed addition, though as it stands the main campaign is currently the only multiplayer mode included.

Developers Commentary
Kenny: Player versus Player mode was investigated but the weapons and notably the dodge ability are really balanced for PvE. We could have just put in the mode anyways but wanted to make sure it was done right and didn't detract from the game as a whole, so we simply focused on other parts of the game for release. Other modes are not out of the question, we're always listening to players to know what the best use of our time and energy is.

Physical controls are responsive and not overly complicated, with the ability to invert the Y axis in the game’s menu if required. Those more interested in less realistic control scheme are also catered for, granting you with simpler analogue mappings giving the game that arcade-like feel. For those that fancy some immersive aerial combat, the game features an optional DANGER ZONE split joy-con motion control scheme. With both each hands controlling speed, bank and the other pitch. While fun, the novelty quickly wears off as during in the heat of battle lives can easily be lost and entire playthroughs cut short due to confusion or arm fatigue.

Sky Rogue Screenshot 3

Fractal Phases’ Sky Rogue Sits somewhere between being a pure arcade classic and a solid single player rogue-lite title. Without the allure of flashy menus and an attract mode to make it feel like a true arcade hit, or the narrative-driven storyline and engaging objectives to define it as a single player aerial combat title, it fails to truly find its own identity. With a small amount of tweaking in either direction, Sky Rogue could be top of the league in both classes. What it does do it does well however, providing a solid pick up and play experience that will entertain you from the moment you pick it up until the moment you put it down, being simple enough to revisit on occasion without having to worry about spending time re-familiarising yourself with the controls and is still definitely a title that is worthy of your time and attention.

Many thanks to Kenny for his discussion during this review.


+ Fast paced arcade style gamesplay.
+ Customisble ships and payloads.
+ A fun to play Co-op Campaign.
+ Bite-sized missions are ideal for short sessions.

- Lacks any discernable storyline.
- Extra modes provide little extra value.

Verdict: Very Good Job - Recommended Buy

For gameplay footage of Sky Rogue, see our see our 10 minute Dive In: HERE
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