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Captain Skyhawk

The original box art for the Rare's captain Skyhawk, for the NES.

Captain Skyhawk is a 1990 forward-scrolling shooter developed by Rare for the NES. The basic plot is that you are a pilot who is singlehandedly (I suppose he's like the guy from Independence Day or something like that) taking on a fleet of alien lifeforms who have constructed bases to drain energy from the Earth and subsequently use this energy to destroy it with a massive laser (so basically, it's Independence Day).

Now, I was first inspired to play this game when I saw the guys from the Continue? Show playing it, and making it look pretty fun. Bottom line is that once I saw the looks of this game, I knew I wanted to give it a play and then a review.

There was just one problem: this game is unplayable. But, don't think I'm knocking the concept behind this game. In fact, I think it's one of those plots that could have massive potential for a good remake. Not only that, but some of the levels have a format of my favorite classic flyer of all time: Sky Destroyer.

The real problem is that it feels as though the style of control for the actual plane doesn't fit the level design at all, with some of the stages just being straight-up ridiculous and unreasonable.

First of all, let's describe the design of the basic level: you literally zoom at a ridiculous amount of speed through a grid terrain that looks like it came from the Star Wars Arcade Game, and all the while, you have to dodge obstacles that blend right in with the ground that can one-hit KO you if you hit them. Plus, logically, theree's also the customary massive amount of enemies that you always seem to run into. Lovely.

Now let's move into the next major level type; this is the kind that I was eagerly looking forward to playing, because it reminded me of Sky Destroyer, which I used to have major fun playing with my uncle. But whats the problem with this? Well, you use the arrow pad/keys to move your targeting reticule around the screen, and guess what? The controls are INVERTED. It's not difficult enough that you have to negotiate a three-dimensional targeting plane, but now you have to deal with controls that work in reverse. Luckily, the enemy attacks on these levels never seem to hit, but my only strategy was to just keep randomly pressing control buttons and pressing the fire button. That is not even an excusable interpretation of what a fun game is.

But we haven't hit the tip of the iceberg yet. This is the one stage that not only made me lose all my lives, but also convinced me that there was essentially no hope for this game to be good. They actually have a stage...where they require you...to do a half-barrel roll and flawlessly slide into a ship through a constantly-rotating slit in the wall. Yeah! 'Cause fun video games are ALWAYS this tedious!

You may think that I'm being a little bit too hard on this game for its being challenging. Well, here's the way I see it; there are two major types of challenge: difficulty, and cheap difficulty. Difficulty is simply a level of challenge in a game that makes you struggle to get through some levels, but gives back a massive amount of fun and an overwhelming sense of fulfillment once you finally finish. For example, the early Oddworld games are difficult.

Cheap difficulty, on the other hand, is simply inserting large amounts of tedious and frustrating gameplay into every level or two not to make overcoming the game an intriguing experience, but simply to keep the player from doing so too quickly. This is just the kind of lazy remedy to extend gameplay time that drives me absolutely mad, and this game has it in spades.

Don't get me wrong; as I said earlier, Captain Skyhawk is an excellent and potentially very enjoyable idea for a video game, and I was stunned by the very advanced graphics for the NES era. However, the way this title tried to make the game last and provide a true challenge is completely wrong and a result of poor development.

Over the years, Rare has been an excellent developer, but it's fluctuated with the quality of its products. Even though it was indeed the pioneer of the Golden Age of the N64, this earlier title is among its most underwhelming yet. As such, I wholeheartedly recommend that you not play it.

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