Since getting into the video game business Nintendo has produced many fondly regarded games, which have often lead to sequels. Even when a series is dormant, older entries have re-appeared either in updated form or via the various Virtual Console services. Then there’s Sky Skipper. Briefly hitting arcades in 1981, this hi-score chaser sees you take control of a pilot named Mr You! (yes, there’s an exclamation mark) who must use his plane to rescue the King of Wonder-Kingdom along with his family and animal friends from a bunch of Gorillas. It received a port to the Atari 2600 and then was largely forgotten about - until now, because HAMSTER, that purveyor of retro goodness, is bringing the original arcade experience to Switch with Arcade Archives Sky Skipper.
The controls in the game are straightforward. Your plane takes off automatically and then it’s a case of pushing directions to turn where you’d like to go. You also make use of face buttons to increase your speed and drop bombs (your method of combating the gorillas). These two buttons are also mapped to the Z buttons, a system which works well enough. Buttons can be remapped in the settings menu, where you can also turn on rapid fire – although this isn’t really a game that benefits from that. The controls are responsive, with any mishaps feeling like a misjudgement on your own part rather than the fault of the game itself.
The visuals are a mixed bag. Everything runs smoothly and there are fun looking characters everywhere, but these are accompanied by some garish colours in places and the stages themselves are extremely blocky. The simple design and plain backgrounds (black or blue, alternating between levels) ensure everything is easy to follow, but Sky Skipper certainly shows its age. This release includes an option (off by default) for “Original Game’s Character Designs” which sounds exciting, but actually just toggles whether you want parts of sprites to blank out when they overlap with your plane. As always, HAMSTER has included options to add scanlines (five settings available) and a scrolling video line, should you wish to do so.
The audio is likewise simple, but there are some fun tunes at the start and end of levels, the latter sounding very Donkey Kong-esque. Sound effects, though basic in nature, add to the experience as you drop bombs, rescue people or get hit, with the most effective audio being the gentle ringing of your propeller spinning.
There are four stages in the game, with the layouts getting tougher as you progress (characters become more spaced out, and there are narrower passageways to navigate) and then, after the fourth, you loop back to the beginning; the challenge continues until your stock of lives is gone. To rescue characters, you must first free them by bombing their gorilla captors. Drop a bomb on their noggin and they’ll fall down momentarily stunned, which also causes nearby prisoners to be freed from their compartment. You have to be careful when you attack though, because if they fall above a prisoner’s enclosure you won't be able to rescue them.
The gorillas are not completely defenceless either, as they can throw exploding balls at you; a crosshair appears onscreen so you won’t be caught totally unaware. These won’t necessarily result in a loss of life as - like the clouds that also drift through each stage - the explosion sends you spinning downwards, but with quick reflexes and sufficient room in which to manoeuvre you can wrestle back control and survive.
Something else you’ll need to keep an eye on is your fuel, which burns off as you fly. It doesn’t disappear quickly, but you can’t take your time, either. Mess up too many rescues and you’ll be in trouble, but returning to the start point and flying into the flag will top you up with reserve fuel, giving you a bit longer to rescue everyone.
With all levels featuring gorillas to bomb, characters to rescue and a fuel gauge to keep an eye on, gameplay is not exactly varied, but there’s replay value in improving your score. This can be achieved by surviving for longer, but there are also bonus points for your remaining fuel, so getting through the level faster is sometimes a good idea. In addition to this, the order you rescue the animals in has an effect on your score. Each type belongs to a card suit; collect four consecutive ones of the same colour for extra points and four of the same suit for even more. It’s not always practical to go for these combinations, but again, there’s reward for taking a risk should the opportunity arise.
Dive into the options menu and you can make things easier by giving yourself a fourth extra life, or tougher by reducing the number. You can also make things harder by increasing the score at which you are awarded an extra life. The difficulty is set a 1 by default but can be increased to 8. The game offers alternating two-player should you wish to compare your point-scoring ability to that of a friend, and as usual, HAMSTER has thrown in an online leaderboard, too.
Further online leaderboards are available in the one-credit Hi Score and five-minute Caravan modes, which use the default settings. Hi Score is essentially a less customisable version of the main arcade mode (even though that lets you add extra credits, there are no continues), but the Caravan mode offers a different experience, making you take more risks in the hope of racking those points up before the time runs out.
There are already a number of Hi-Score chasers on Switch, but Arcade Archives Sky Skipper has gained attention because it's such a rare title. It's an early game too, and it shows in the visuals which feature some good (albeit small) character sprites, but stages that at times look not so much stylishly retro as hideously basic. Gameplay is simple but not massively varied. It doesn't get dull, however, and there's certainly fun to be found in striking a balance between completing the levels quickly and plotting a route to maximise your point-scoring; online leaderboards add to the replayability. It's not quite the lost classic some would have you believe, but Arcade Archives Sky Skipper can still entertain with its animal-rescuing, gorilla-bombing shenanigans.