It never fails to amaze me how development studios try to recapture the essence of classic games rather than turn their IPs into something we’ve never seen before. Of course, this is the safe way to do it, and in most cases it’s the sensible option, because the vast majority of games out there are entirely derivative anyway. In the case of SkyDrift, however, the Hungarian outfit Digital Reality has a title with so much potential on their hands it’s rather sad to see it become something that, realistically, is simply going to fade into the background.
SkyDrift is a funny mix of modern street-racing titles and classic arcade racers like Mario Kart. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed SkyDrift, for my part, but it did feel somewhat throwaway and I found it a real struggle to get as far through as I did.
The basic premise is that it’s a sky-racing title that sees you guiding eight different aircraft through a series of races against other, Crimson Skies-esque racing vehicles. The controls have been hugely simplified and the actual racing itself is more to do with dealing with the obstacles than anything else.
There is a power-up system present that follows the traditional mine/rocket/gun/shockwave/shield format, and it’s pretty integral to the game, rather than being just a tacked on extra. Generating boost, for example, is most easily done by converting your power ups. Getting shot down or crashing simply puts you a few seconds back, and the races are pretty intense from start to finish. As a game it’s enjoyable to play, but lacks the real punch of something like Wipeout. That said, it could have been much more than just a driving game in the air.
This potential shows itself nowhere clearer than in the design decisions made by the team. To have such tight invisible walls in a flying game is counter-intuitive, and while I can certainly see why they were included, it doesn’t do much for the uniqueness of the game. Your plane flies faster the closer to the ground it is, yet rather than work on that mechanic, the dev team have included ugly, prohibitive ‘courses’ from which you can’t deviate.
Similarly, control of your aircraft is severely limited by the mechanics. It’s a two-stick control system, that relegates the second stick to barrel-roll status. While this is easy to use, and can be nice and flashy, there is little finesse in taking corners. It takes all the intuition out of the flying, and essentially turns it into a hand brake for the more severe corners.
Then there’s the overall style of the piece. The racy music, explosive visuals, colourful skins and cartoony nature of the planes all combine to make this a really intense racer. In many cases it’s too intense. Something cooler and a little more stylish could have saved this from being the kind of game you can only really play for a couple of hours at a time. Granted, that was probably the aim, but I do feel, in general, the sights for this title were set too low.
Still, enjoying it for what it is brings real joy at times, and getting a corner right in an airplane is infinitely more enjoyable than getting it right in a road vehicle of some kind. The weapon system isn’t too intrusive, and given that every power-up can be converted into boost means that multiplayer races are often a cleaner affair than the ones played against the AI. The courses themselves are pretty dull to be honest, and while each has it’s own little foibles – rocks that can be blown up or debris that can be used to hinder your opponents – they come across as very nineties in style. The race types are equally dreary, but at least cover the main bases.
What you have in SkyDrift is an enjoyable, if forgettable title that really should have stood out. The restrictive courses, the dumbed-down controls and general intensity fit well with a game that it supposed to be played for an hour at a time, but in this day and age, where split-screen racing is far less common, most of us are looking for more.
I think the assumption that taking a classic format and making it work with new technology is enough to get gamers going about a racing title is simply wrong. This is a fun game, of that there’s no doubt, but transposed into the modern era of gaming, it doesn’t do so well. Smaller developers should be at the vanguard of the movement to introduce new concepts to our games, but sadly, in this case, Digital Reality didn’t aim for the sky.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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