Shmups, Breakout, and Tennis – what do these three have in common? Before Sky Racket we were inclined to say "not much", but Double Dash studios has shown that these elements can be the ingredients to an interesting cross-genre blend.
The origins of Sky Racket are very unique. Created during a 2015 event called Indies VS Gamers – hosted by PewDiePie, Markiplier, Jacksepticeye, and Game Jolt – Sky Racket was initially brought to life in a 72-hour game jam competition. The theme of the competition was arcade games, and Sky Racket definitely delivered on this premise with an engaging concept – it actually went on to win the competition. Five years later, the game has found its way onto the Nintendo Switch, which feels like a perfect home for it.
To try and break down the feel of the game, we would say that the movement and bullet patterns feel like a shmup. You are weaving through enemy fire and battling large bosses as expected. However, rather than fighting hordes of enemy ships directly, you instead face a mixture of cute enemy sprites and juicy, point-filled, Breakout-style blocks.
You are not a static wall bouncing bullets back and forth, though. Instead, you are a boy or girl armed with a racket (or racquet, if you prefer). Just like all of the best tennis games, in order to precisely influence where you want the reflected projectiles to go, you need to time your swings very carefully. The feel of the game is reminiscent of the Agahnim fight from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past where you need to slash his own fireballs back at him, or even the Ganondorf fight from Ocarina of Time. Another close comparison could be Marth’s forward-air from the Super Smash Bros. series. It feels a bit like that.
In addition to your racket swing, the player is also able to occasionally shoot bullets of his or her own via a support buddy. These are of limited use, however, so think of them as more of a tactical item rather than a permanent power-up. The scoring system of the game is all about chaining hits together by keeping the reflected projectiles in play while avoiding taking damage. There are also additional star items that the player collects for smaller bonus points. Being fans of the legendary shmup Dodonpachi, we can’t help but wonder if the classic CAVE bullet-hell setup was a source of inspiration, which also features chaining and stars for scoring.
Speaking of bullet-hell shmups, one standard aspect of movement in these games is the concentrated fire mechanic, where the player holds down the shot button to focus his or her fire, but with the effect of slower movement speed. In Sky Racket, however, the game turns this concept upside-down with the roll move. During the roll, which is activated by holding a dedicated button, the player will spin like Samus in her Morph Ball. However, rather slowing down, the player actually speeds up. We feel this addition is a fantastic idea, as it adds a great amount of mobility to the character in a fun and charming way. Being able to know when to roll and how to control it precisely becomes key as the game’s intensity ramps up in the later stages.
After an hour or so and a few stages in, the player will likely start to get a feel for the flow of Sky Racket’s unique gameplay. Essentially, each stage begins with the player juggling reflected bullets at block enemies in a Breakout/Tennis hybrid fashion. Afterwards, the player will then encounter a fun and quirky boss that vomits bullets and projectiles that the player will need to carefully hit back. Rinse and repeat.
Overall, as much as we appreciate the creativity of the stage-sections, we feel that it is in the fun and engaging boss fights that Sky Racket is at its best. The main criticism we have for the game is that, when it comes to working through the block elements of the stages, the pacing can feel pretty sluggish. Perhaps an added mechanic of being able to charge the racket swings to hit the projectiles faster would have helped with the pacing. With that being said, it is also hard to definitively say that the leisurely gameplay in these sections is entirely the fault of the developers, as the source of inspiration for Sky Racket, Break-Out, also tends to have these problems. Perhaps the slower pace is part of the appeal.
Aesthetically, we found the game’s graphical style and visual presentation to be well-crafted and charming. Sky Racket has a cute-em up flair that fits alongside titles like Pop’n Twinbee on the Super Famicom. We could easily see Sky Racket as a colourful and vibrant gem from the 16-bit era. The music and sound are also exactly what they needed to be; our favourite sound effect is definitely the that of the racket reflecting certain projectiles back – it makes a chunky popping noise that sounds like a ball being hit in a cave or something.
The most difficult part of reviewing Sky Racket is knowing which audience is going to be the most interested in the game. As mentioned before, while the boss fights are fun and full of stuff to dodge, the block sections of the game may be too slow-paced for the more dedicated shmup fans. With that being said, it is also possible that the people looking for a relaxing experience of Tennis and Break-Out might be taken off guard by the more demanding boss fights. Perhaps the safest conclusion, then, is that the game should appeal to an audience that has an overlapping interest in the diverse game-styles that Sky Racket skillfully mixes together.