Friday, April 5, 2013

My Special Birthday Review

Written: April 2nd-4th, 2013 / Published: April 5th, 2013
Hello, everyone I'm StarBoy91, very passionate about video games!  Guess what?  April 5th is on the horizon, and you know what that means?
It's my birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!  =D
I turn 22 this year, and I thought of reviewing a special game for just such an occasion.  Twenty-two years!  My how time flies.  But what game shall I review?  What more appropriate than a game that has become a growing cult classic over the years, and a very good game to boot than this one?  =)
Console: SNES | Year: 1993, 1994 | Developed by: Ukiyotei | Published by: Sony Imagesoft

Rain, rain, go away!  Come again some other day!
To say that this game is a fascinating mystery would be a great understatement.  Developed at a time before Sony would take gaming to the next level with their CD-based PlayStation console, there was a time believe it or not when games were published by them for Nintendo consoles.  From licensed titles to legitimately decent games, it was a real craze at the time.  Okay, I exaggerate, but there were plenty of them around.  One such game was developed by Ukiyotei, who also made the cult licensed SNES games Hook and Spawn, in the form of Skyblazer.  Surprisingly, despite being released in the middle of the console's lifespan, it wasn't exactly noticed when it was initially released to the public.

"Hey, you've got something in your eye; let me
get it for you!"
While a lot of overlooked (and underrated) games were partially known about during their heyday but would become well-known in the future years to come, this was a case where not very many were aware of it at the time but eventually would become a bit of a phenomenon, a cult classic if you will.  It's a truly unusual tale of an obscure game turning into an instant hit.  I remember having first heard about this game many years ago on Flying Omelette's old Top 100 countdown, and from what I read on there it sounded interesting.  Some time later I discovered a (very informatively funny) review of it over at good ol' RVGFanatic's website, who gave it a very good rating.

Sky getting into the heat of things
One of the common things said about this game are that it's good, it's got good play control, it's obscure and it's underrated, and I couldn't help but become curious about it.  I played Ukiyotei's previous endeavor Hook long before I played this game (back in 2009), so of course I was interested to know if it was really as good as many said it was.  However it wouldn't be nearly two and a half years later that I would experience this classic.  This was one of the games that I wanted to try and thought "this will be my next game" only to catch the attention of another (being a gamer/collector's hard work).  Also, whenever I checked on the game back then on eBay there weren't that many copies, and shockingly there was one copy that was significantly more expensive than its common sales price range.  Last year, on my 21st birthday, I received this game alongside the fun and charming The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse for the same console, and I'm happy to say that it was well worth the wait.  =)  But how good is it exactly, and how did it attain the status that it's got today?  Shall we begin?

Climbing up towers is a fun past-time
The evil entity Raglan has summoned Ashura, the Lord of War, to kidnap the sorceress Ariana and prepare to send the world into total darkness.  There is only one individual who can save her and put a stop to their whole operation, and that individual is called Sky, who's a descendant of one of the oldest heroes.  However, he is not ready just yet because he has yet to learn and master the magic powers to truly become powerful and able to take on Ashura and Raglan.  Along the way he will be mentored by an old man... simply known as "Old Man".  In each shrine he will lecture you, show you a mystic pattern (i.e. passwords) to continue your progress, and depending on the situation he may also raise your health capacity by one.  Will Sky be successful in his journey?
I don't know about you, but any time he makes that face he looks scary!  D=

Dashing in mid-air
Skyblazer's gameplay is good.  For the most part it is versatile and responsive, and Sky is really fun to control.  The play control is very solid, especially when it comes to learning different magic.  His main attack consists of punches, kicks, and combos; he can also control his mid-jumps, move while crouching, and climb on walls.  The game is split into three different islands, where the lion's share of the action happens in the middle one; and so long as you're in a certain island you can decide to go forward or replay a stage if you feel like it.  The majority of the stages has a boss fight at the end, and should you win you'll be learning a new magic spell which you can cycle through with either shoulder button, and how much magic it uses up all depends on the type of magic (ranging from a healing spell to a spread-shot spell among several others).  The magic will prove very useful throughout the game, but only use it if you really have to.

"Oh, why did I choose to be on the bad side?"
I said that the gameplay was mostly versatile and responsive, and there's a reason for that. While most stages will have you jump and traverse on foot, there are a couple self-scrolling stages where Sky dons a pair of wings on him.  Yet for some reason the flight controls do not feel quite as smooth as the rest of the gameplay.  There are even a few third-person flight sequences for when you go from island to island, and while they control slightly better, they're still not as top-notch as the rest.  It's also a chance to collect various gems.  Most times you defeat enemies they may leave behind increments of health potions, increments of magic potions, or increments of gems (the bigger the size, the bigger the amount).

Sky is so legendary that he can breathe
underwater for a very long time without issues!
Skyblazer has very good quality in terms of background music.  The soundtrack is very exotic and has got a really good amount of instrumentation.  A lot of it fun to listen to, it adds so much to the atmosphere, and (pun intended) it's music to the ears.  The 3D flight segments are accompanied by great piano notes and an ambient aura, the Temple Infernus theme is dark and foreboding, the song that plays in a couple of the stages with the tubular bells is cool, the Lair of Kharyon theme is so beautiful and relaxing I could listen to it all day without getting tired, and the Petrolith Castle theme is fun and energetic.  The boss theme is decent, but the major boss theme trumps them all.  The ending music is sweet, although it only works best if you've played the game.  The sound effects are good, and a few are even humorous (there's a "ding" sound for when you deflect certain projectiles).  Any time Sky gets hit he makes a grunting sound, and the best part of the music is it doesn't start all over if you lose a life and just keeps playing (more games should do that).

Soaring through the sky
The visuals are especially fantastic, for they display some of the most colorful worlds seen on the console (well, in '94).  What's also neat is how detailed they are and how they share a common cultural theme, almost as if we're visiting the environment ourselves.  Likely it was inspired by the Middle East; not bad.  Each background is great to look at, and the variety of them really makes the game environments great.  Some examples of them are the Temple Infernus where it's all red and filled with flames plus there are even cool details in the backdrop.  Conversely the Petrolith Castle area is all blue and icy, with all the cool details in the backgrounds and foregrounds.  The Lair of Kharyon is a visually mesmerizing stage, where it largely takes place underwater and is consumed with detail.

Battle in a higher place
Another neat-looking area is the Tower of Tarolisk, where for the most part it takes place inside the tower, but when climbing it outside it looks sweet; Sky is fixed in the center as he climbs up or falls down in a fashion similar to Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday's two tree segments and Mickey's Wild Adventure's two tower portions.  The characters' and enemies' animations are detailed and great, and the bosses are huge and really cool.  One boss is a giant wall which rotates from time to time, and another boss is round and spiky, becoming bigger with each hit it gets; both made possible with the Mode 7 effects.  Speaking of Mode 7, they're also put to use whenever Sky flies to the next island, which is spectacular to look at (even though the segments are brief).  The other regular bosses are designed good, such as the weird elephant-like creature with a turtle's head in place of its trunk that unleashes red grinning apples (it's just as weird as it sounds) and an evil spirit that protrudes from a strange lamp.

This is a peculiar place to house architecture  =/
Skyblazer has got a lot of good qualities going for it, but there is one thing that prevents it from achieving absolute perfection: it's easy.  The stages are fairly simple to navigate (save for one), and in the top-down maps you can go forward or backtrack (should you wish to do so).  The bosses all have patterns, and the enemies can be defeated from combos or single hits.  But here's where the downside lies: there's barely any challenge to it, the enemies are easy to defeat, the stages are a little short for their own good, and the abundance of power-ups in the stages also helps render the experience easy.

It's a small world after all
But just because the game is easy it doesn't mean that the game itself is bad.  It's fun to play and the stages themselves are decently designed, even though they don't offer much in terms of length.  Sure it would've been nice had some actual challenge been around; fortunately pretty much everything else makes up for it.  The stages are not only fun to look at but they're also fun to navigate; the Lair of Kharyon stage stands out in that it's the only stage where figuring your way out of a maze is required.  Also, not all bosses are easy: the battle against Raglan is harder than the rest of the game combined, but he can be ousted if you're careful enough.  Skyblazer is also one of those games where before you must face the final (two) boss(es) you must go through a boss rehash, where select bosses will be ready to fight you again.  What's fairly neat is how the password system is laid out and how the symbols are represented.  Here's an example:  =D
At least every region, North America included, will see the spheres colored like the buttons from a Super Famicom contro--  O_O  Say, those sphere designs look familiar!  Just... mirror the positions of the green and red spheres, then flip the giant sphere backdrop vertically and you get...

I think RVG put it best in his review when he said
this attack method was just weird  =|
So yeah, Skyblazer isn't excellent, but damn if it isn't fun while it lasts.  The areas are wonderfully detailed and atmospheric, the soundtrack is purely brilliant, the game is wonderful to look at, and the gameplay is really, really good.  The in-game map is cool, the boss fights are decent (especially the final boss), and the 3D flight segments are sweet.  It's just a shame that it's too easy, because the game is really fun and it had the potential to be an all-around incredible game.  Don't get me wrong, it's a really good game, and definitely a step up from Ukiyotei's Hook from earlier, but if it were slightly more challenging (I'm not saying make it ActRaiser 2 or The Addams Family: Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt challenging , just a tad smidge) then it may have been better.  Then again, its easygoing nature is what makes it so accessible and appealing in the first place.  I think that in itself (not to mention the other aspects) is why it's gotten so popular these past several years and became something of a hidden gem.  Everything else about it is great that I could forgive its shortcomings, if only slightly.

Is it worth hunting down?  If you're looking for a fun platformer with a diverse set of attacks and spells throughout , then you'll find it right here.  =)  If you're planning to try a challenging platformer, then you may want to lower your expectations.  If you're willing to overlook the brevity of each stage and easy difficulty, then I think you'll enjoy this game.  I certainly did, and I'm really glad I played it.  While it's not perfect by any means, I will say that Ukiyotei did a nice job with this title.  Well done!  =)
Hmmm, this ending scene reminds me of another game's ending sequence that looked similar to this; I wonder what it could be?
Thank you reading my birthday review, please leave a comment, and I hope you all have a great day!  Take care!!  =D
P.S.: Skyblazer has contradicting copyright dates.  In the opening credits it says it was made in 1993, but in the ending credits it says it was made in 1994 instead.  Make up your mind!!!  >0<
P.S. 2: That one easter egg was pretty cool.  It's almost as if Sony knew their PlayStation buttons were going to be designed that way.
P.S. 3: If you recognize the game I'm talking about in my phoenix screenshot, don't reveal what the game is!  Just say that you know what I'm talking about.


  1. Nice review! I didn't realize that you were only 22 years old. It's a pleasant surprise that you are into older systems/games like the SNES at your age. Many guys who are into the SNES are older.

    I didn't see you mention it, but did you find the hidden river stage? While I wouldn't call it an Easter Egg per se, it is VERY missable.

    1. Sorry for the late reply, but I want to say thank you. =) I did find the hidden river stage, but not exactly by myself. I remember having stumbled upon a gameplay video of Skyblazer long before I played it that revealed a secret flight sequence, which transported Sky to the uppermost temple. It's rather elusive, I agree, though I imagine that a lot of people found it by accident if they weren't tipped off about it online.
      Also, long live the SNES! =D It's not only one of the first systems I grew up with, but it's also my favorite video game console ever! I enjoy playing retro games a lot.