Before this sentence is completed, fifteen shoot ‘em ups will arise on the App store. Chances of them being thought out and executed well are slim, and the chances of them being anything better than mundane are slimmer yet. Blue Skies is the exception, it is the shoot ‘em up equivalent of a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That is to say, one can count on it for both nostalgia and quality while at the same time not expecting anything earth shattering.
In this case, I am classifying a shoot ‘em up as a game in which you pilot an aerial vehicle from the top-down perspective with the goal of destroying any number of enemy combatants. These games are usually simple, action-packed and difficult to master (conventionally the levels in the game will scroll top-down or right-left but Blue Skies offers more freedom). In keeping with its brethren the premise of blue skies is far from convoluted; you find yourself hurtling about a large landscape using their helicopter to take down enemy planes, tanks and mines. Like any good aerial shooter, the helicopter in Blue Skies has the capacity to carry ludicrous amounts of ammunition in the forms of missiles and bombs. Missiles are used for the airborne enemies and bombs for the earthbound. The game’s interface is commendable; the player uses a simple combination of tilting and screen taps to maneuver about the large levels.
While piloting the helicopter, the player is treated (literally, this is a treat) to an excellent collection of techno tracks. I found myself crashing into enemy planes as I drifted off with the glorious in-game soundtrack. The music of Blue Skies is what separates it most from other games of its kind (good controls aside) and in general it is leagues above most other games on the app store. The purchase price is worth the music alone, the ability to download the soundtrack with a purchase would blow me away but sadly the only way to listen to the music is in game.
Levels in Blue Skies are as previously noted very large. This is both to the game’s benefit and detriment. On the one hand, it is nice to experience the thrill of flying using the game’s tilt controls. On the other hand, at times the enemies in a given level are sparse and flying nearly all the way across a giant level to find an enemy can be outright boring. Additional frustration arrives in the form of enemies that are displayed on your indicator but have already left the field of battle.
The player will find that gunplay is mostly satisfying and has a distinct old-school flair to it. Depth is brought into combat through the ability to strafe, which is much appreciated in situations where a tank has decided that you are its next target. While I enjoyed the combat in Blue Skies, I often found the limited field of vision to be a handicap when approaching a target. While the game does provide distances to some enemies not currently within your sight, learning exactly when to slow down to avoid crashes takes quite a bit of getting used to.
Blue Skies offers two different modes for players to engage in: story mode and arcade mode. Arcade mode offers quick action without the narrative ties, and simply allows one to blow crap up. Story mode offers a larger sense of progression, moving players from the most basic weapons to the upper echelons of future helicopter technology. Thematically, I found the story mode to be off putting. Characters are drawn in anime style and speak in gibberish. Often, both friend and foe engage in ‘humorous’, drawn out conversations that entirely reveal both parties’ tactical intentions. This contrasts directly with both the in game gritty art style and overall serious feeling of the game. I could not help but wonder how exactly a young pink haired girl has found herself slaughtering thousands of vaguely Germanic foes and how on earth she manages to keep a smile on her childish face despite her historically bloodied hands.
The Achilles heel of Blue Skies is remarkably that of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich: repetition. After some amount of time the player will simply lose interest due to the lack of variety. While one can choose between story and arcade (smooth or crunchy) the differences are not enough to keep coming back. One does get their money’s worth with a purchase, and one may also end up bringing the game out every once in awhile to fool around with, but flying around the same-ish levels destroying the same-ish enemies for too long can get boring.
Blue Skies has been out on the app store for quite some time now, and on the current version the game runs smoothly and is entirely worth the three-dollar asking price. Old school shoot ‘em up fans will enjoy the tight controls and everyone else can be satisfied with the awesome soundtrack.
Presentation and Graphics
The game runs smoothly and looks great in motion. The levels and enemies seem to lack creativity and are at times a little bland.
You can listen to your own music by double-tapping the home button, but you will not want to.
The formula of the game is nothing radical, but the controls are implemented well.
Blue Skies gets repetitive quickly, and there are only so many waves of similar enemies one can destroy before losing interest.
I would have appreciated more variety; the game’s killer soundtrack is the highlight for me.
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