When you first boot up Sky Ride, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally downloaded an early alpha version by mistake. After selecting it from your Switch home menu you get a brief loading screen and are then immediately presented with your character sitting there, ready to go with a basic title logo up in the corner.
It’s a bizarre introduction to a game that comes with no explanation and no tutorial; there's nothing beyond a basic options menu that lets you invert your vertical axis, change the camera speed and see your controls. This is a game that dumps you unceremoniously into its world and expects you to figure it out for yourself.
Still, figure it out you will. You play as a young girl riding what appears to be a flying motorbike of sorts, and you get to fly around a single enclosed level. We immediately got horrible flashbacks to Switch launch game Vroom In The Night Sky, but thankfully Sky Ride isn’t quite as bad as that.
With very little warning the level becomes infested with odd flying lantern-shaped enemies, which start heading towards you in droves. While there’s no tutorial it becomes pretty clear that you’re supposed to take them out, so you quickly discover your main weapon, your machine gun. This toggles on and off with the L button, so you only need to press it once to start firing an endless stream of bullets.
As you get the hang of the controls, you may actually to start to think “hmmm, this isn’t bad”. The number of enemies on-screen at the same time is quite impressive, and though your environment is made up of very low-poly scenery, it still feels oddly well put together.
Eventually you discover you can fire bombs with the X button. These are big round shots, similar to the bombs in Star Fox, and they slowly soar through the sky when you lob one. If you’re lucky enough to hit an enemy in mid-air the result is an enormous explosion which takes out hundreds of foes at once, and suddenly you feel like a bad-ass. You might not believe it, but there’s genuine satisfaction to be had in this one.
It soon becomes clear that the entire game is a score-based challenge, similar to games like Geometry Wars (but only in structure, not appearance). You have to stay alive while progressively larger and more difficult waves of enemies appear and attack you en masse. Every now and then a giant boss will appear and you’ll have to pelt it with bombs, all while avoiding the swarms of missiles and smaller enemies constantly surrounding you.
Even so, there are still too many major drawbacks to properly recommend Sky Ride. The fact there’s only one stage is poor – even though it’s bigger than it initially looks – and while it does become surprisingly fun flying around and lobbing huge exploding bombs at things, you quickly crave a bit more variety. Most of your other weapons are a waste of time, the music is immediately forgettable, and as mildly entertaining as it may be at times you can’t ever shake the feeling you’re playing a game that feels frankly unfinished.
Worst of all, for a game that revolves solely around getting a high score, the complete lack of an online leaderboard is nothing short of criminal: all you get to do is try to beat your own previous best, which is weaker than a paper hammer.
Actually, it feels like the sort of thing that was doing the rounds near the end of the GameCube’s life. Its low-detail backgrounds, lack of on-screen guidance and the complete absence of any online functionality all makes it feel like a low-budget game from the early 2000s, which may not necessarily be a bad thing but highlights an infuriating lack of ambition.
There’s a surprisingly good game waiting inside Sky Ride, ready to burst out and consume all your free time. It never quite manages to get there though, and its woefully undercooked and unfinished feel makes it all the more frustrating that, given more development time, it could actually have been a bit of a hidden gem. Instead, it’s a weird one-trick pony that may keep your interest for a while but quickly gets repetitive.