Sky Gunner is, at its foundation, an incredibly entertaining and quirky shooter. At first glance you’ll notice that this game is literally brimming with Japanese anime influence. And for good reason, you see, SCEI never intended for this game to be released in the States. After being in Japan for nearly a year, Atlus decided to take the initiative and publish it stateside. (Thanks, Atlus USA!) The intro features a Japanese cartoon of the Sky Gunner universe and looks incredibly impressive; it really got me hyped to start playing the game. The story revolves around a group of sky gunners who are attending a yearly exposition in the quaint and charming town of Rive, where the inhabitants get together and show off new technology and inventions. The centerpiece of the event was to be a new invention called ‘The Eternal Engine’ whose capabilities include power beyond belief and an ever-lasting lifespan. An evil genius named Ventre steals the device during the exposition and thus the quest to recover the invention and put a stop to Ventre’s evil plans begins. You’ll have the option to choose the sky gunner you want to play as and experience the story from his or her perspective.
Graphically, the game looks like its optimized for the Gamecube, boasting colorful pastel-type visuals. The animation is superb, with tons of attention to detail. For instance, flying your plane low to the water will make the water beneath the wings realistically kick up around them. There are tons of little visual nuances on each plane. The automobile design in this game is downright breathtaking as is the atmospheric background graphics -- everything looks watertight and stunning. The game tends to slow down a bit when the action gets fast and furious .. ok, it slows down a lot, but just consider it a super extra happy fun-time slow-motion bonus feature and you should be ok. The slowdown is technically a fault, but, and call me crazy, I actually like it: the action is so incredibly intense that an occasional breather is a welcomed addition.
The various orchestrations are decidedly Japanese influenced. They are whimsical and cheery, but when you begin a boss-fight, the music will ramp up a few notches to convey a sense of high-tension urgency. You have the option at the onset of the game to choose between Japanese (with English subtitles) or English voiceovers. A feature that more games should offer in my opinion.
The game offers five unique levels, but they should be called episodes since at the beginning, middle and end of each stage, lengthy dialogue will transpire between you, your teammates, your boss and the enemies, accompanied by detailed cartoon illustrations that contrasts nicely with the game’s 3D graphics. The action in Sky Gunner is fast, frenetic and incredibly entertaining, thanks in part to its lock-on capability, which allows you to lock on to multiple enemies at the same time and unload a barrage of armaments, destroying them all simultaneously in one fell swoop. (Kinda like Dr. Robotnik and Tails in Sonic Adventure 2.) Aside from the lock-on combos you can create chain-reactions by destroying certain enemies that results in the destruction of all the baddies that are adjacent to the one you killed. The more enemies you kill in this fashion, the more points you’ll be awarded. Points will come in handy since you’ll be in constant competition with your teammates; the one with the highest score at the end of the level is awarded with a cool upgrade.
The way you move around in Sky Gunner feels a lot like Star Fox for the N64 but with full 360 degrees freedom of movement. The camera is always focused on the action and the perspective reflects the location you should be concentrating on. Switching between targets is done by hitting the triangle button. So while you have complete freedom over where you can go, you never feel lost since you always know where you should be.
The main weapon is a machine gun with unlimited ammo. You’ll also have three super weapons, each with their own unique function, like the Cross-Bomb, which allows you to plant an enormous bomb on the enemy and detonate it by shooting it with your machine gun, causing devastating damage. There is also the Fireworks weapon which, when detonated, results in a fiery, colorful explosion reminiscent of Fantavision. You’ll also have the Dog-missile, which will attach itself to fast-moving enemies bringing them to a literal standstill so that you can easily dispose of them. Each character in the game has their own distinctive special moves and, to a certain degree, controls differently. Using your special maneuvers frequently will overheat your engine, so you will need to keep a steady eye on your heat-gauge: if you allow it to overheat you’ll have to wait until it completely cools down before you can use your special attacks again.
While the levels take place in the same location regardless of which character you choose, the action stays spanking new since each character will perform different objectives within the level. It’s an interesting component that effectively lengthens the lifespan of the game significantly, giving you plenty of incentive to play through the game multiple times with different characters. Which is a good thing considering the fact that it only takes a few hours (including cinemas) to get to the end credits of the game with any given character.
There is also an included training mode that is entertaining whilst being very useful. Your teammates will guide you through the fundamentals of the game in a straightforward easy-to-understand manner. In its entirety, training takes around 30 minutes, and when you’re finished you’ll be completely up-to-snuff with the intricacies of the game.
Sky Gunner is an exceptionally enjoyable game that, while having it’s blemishes, manages to maintain an experience that is thoroughly engaging from start to conclusion. The inventive gameplay mechanics and unique objectives, based on the character you choose to play as, makes this game a compelling offer. If you’re into lighthearted, capricious flight games whose inventive and creative graphics are matched only by its gameplay, than you’d be well advised to pick this game up.