Really, every game needs a suplex.
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Favorite Games

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Wild Guns
Wild Guns
Ninja Warriors Once Again
Ninja Warriors Once Again


Total Games Played


Played in 2023


Games Backloggd

Recently Played See More


Sep 26

Girl things
Girl things

Sep 07

Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell

Sep 05

Mega Man Zero 2
Mega Man Zero 2

Aug 23

One Night, Hot Springs
One Night, Hot Springs

Aug 18

Recently Reviewed See More

Thought this would be a fun one to clear in a weekend, but it quickly spilled out into something I’ve had to chip away at over the course of the last month or so, each session revealing some new layer to the game. It may not seem like much at the outset, with SkyGunner’s base difficulty being pretty relaxed, other aerial targets flying lazily around the screen and death being a genuine rarity- taking enough damage only sends you into a “crashing” animation you’ll need to button-mash to pull out of. Combined with the breezy story and charming visuals, and it makes for a very inviting game if you just want to “see” it, (a nice contrast from the initial hostility of many arcade games) but if you’re really taken with it, going for score more than makes up for the initial ease of everything.
There’s a great balancing act in trying to build up your multiplier and keeping your combo timer alive, taking down enemy squadrons to build-up your resources and cashing out by destroying ground targets for their destructive and extremely lucrative “chaining” properties. At the same time you need to prevent your engine from overheating by overusing your abilities, so you have to use your special moves and fully-charged weapons judiciously or plan around the movement penalty incurred by maxing out your gauge, and doing all this while completing its quickfire succession of different objectives; It’d be easy to build up a decent score in a vacuum, but the real test is if you can do it under the pressure of a timer or while protecting an ally, making risky maneuvers to try and clear the skies as quickly as possible. The result is something where you always feel challenged to further optimize your play, where even something as basic as firing your standard machine guns can send you into the red, as it eats away your score- one more great consideration of many to add to your mental stack.
To be honest, chasing high scores is rarely the main appeal of a game for me, but it’s framed particularly well here: you may not care too much about it in the abstract, but SkyGunner frames this is as a competition between the main trio, the minimal threat of the objectives revealing itself to be a race to see who can get to the highest value targets first. Earn a “D” rank at the end of the game and it might not matter so much, but lose the lead in a simulated competition and that might be enough to spark some interest in the scoring system. And, as an added bonus, the extras are only unlocked after getting first place with each of the characters, another nice incentive to see how well the game flows together.
I mention it a lot, but the pacing here really is phenomenal: 5 stages that come in at around 45 minutes if you skip all the cutscenes. No scene here drags out too long or has a chance to outstay its welcome, and even an endgame stretch that initially felt a little dull can be dramatically shortened by helping your companions complete their own objectives for them (thanks for the tip Caim!)
I also want to mention its unique approach to difficulty: instead of a standard set of difficulty modes, it's instead divided up into different characters, who in addition to having planes with unique stats and moves, also end up tackling their own scenarios at specific points in the story. The second mission, for instance, can see you fighting off additional waves of standard enemies as Femme, the game’s easy mode, to destroying volleys of incoming missiles as Copain, the game’s hard mode. Outside of something like The Ninja Warriors: Once Again, I’m hard-pressed to think of a title where your choice of character can so dramatically recontextualize your understanding of the game, the combination of their remixed arsenals and deviations in their stories making for something where successfully finishing it once only leaves you with the realization of how much more there is to experience.
That said, there is one convergence point for all of the characters that I do think is kind of weak: all of them have to contend with the upset that is the final boss, Ciel and Femme the tasked with performing the surprisingly tricky maneuver of hitting it with three fully-charged missiles in a short window of time, a task that asks you to keep track of your ammo and heat meter in a way that no other section of the game outright mandates. On the other hand, Copain gets the much easier objective of simply landing one fully-charged bomb on him and then continuing the fight as normal. It's manageable with some practice, but it’s the one point in where the game feels really inelegant, throwing newer players into a set piece that demands a surprising amount from them, and a strangely flat way to close out the game, dramatically. It might also be the downside of having such a tightly-paced game, it’s one misstep given prominence in a way a longer game might never invite.
There are a few other hang-ups worth mentioning to: the lack of a first-person view has been discussed by the devs as a feature that was experimented with before being cut, but there a few targets where it’s easy to lock-on to some vestigial turret and a waste your shot due to the lack of a more precise aiming option (again, a small thing brought into more pronounced focus on the final boss). Can totally see the art style being a dealbreaker too; reminds me a lot of the self-reflection Jason Rubin had on the Jak games, caught between aesthetics in a way that might be intensely appealing to some, but seems like it’ll ward off just as many. Also easy to imagine another game using the multiple perspectives here to tell a more layered story- for the most part you’re getting different insights into what charming detour each of the characters went on, with only the unlockable character’s story offering some real intrigue.
It’s been hard to articulate why I’ve enjoyed this so much- know a trend in the past for me has been a sense of “completeness,” no ideas left unexplored and where the prospect of mastering the game feels limitless. That quality is probably the reason the lack of a sequel (well, a true sequel) is easier to live with, a sense that developer PixelArt truly understood their own game, successfully creating a title meant for newcomers and hardcore players alike. A rare and excellent thing.
2001 Developer Interview for SkyGunner,
Interview with Jason Rubin (Timestamped for the discussion on the aesthetics of Jak),

Seems like a twisted joke that one of the action games from this era that ends up controlling the most fluidly is the one where you’re piloting a spider-tank- it’s the humans of this generation that you’ll need to get a license to operate. Finds a very particular balance between rigidity of tank controls and the ease of circle strafing, and combined with the ability to transition between (almost) every surface, it’s ended up being some of the most fun I’ve had just controlling a character in 3D space. Came away really liking the conspiratorial feeling of dodging enemy fire by totally inverting my angle-of-approach and entering fights by walking in on the ceiling (would love to see another game pick up where this left off).
Think the highlights are some of the densely-packed later stages, which hold up remarkably well thanks to the fact that the game will seamlessly transition from 3rd to 1st person if the area you’re in gets too cramped, and an early-game level where you’ll race against the clock to destroy explosive barrels in an open-ended environment. The timer here is tight enough that there’s some genuine decision-making in finding the best ways to cut through the level and in deciding what shot type to use: spend a few seconds and charge your lock-on or use a limited-use grenade to clear the objective? It’s a great pressure that’s surprisingly absent in the rest of the levels, free to move through them as cautiously as you want. Doubly weird given how the narrative keeps presenting these ticking clocks, with escaping suspects to catch and reactor meltdowns to avert, that have no bearing on the scenarios themselves.
Speaks to a general sense that this great movement was slotted into a game that didn’t quite know how to test it: Hard to believe that the fight against a rival Fuchikoma, which can scale walls as nimbly as you can and cycles through a number of projectile attacks that can track the player, is in the same title where so many of the bosses only entail that you circle-strafe around them and hold the lock-on button to win- not even leading their shots to throw off the player’s movement: just complete non-entities.
It’s further illustrated by its last level, a straightforward gauntlet through a bunch of enemies and a final boss that could function in almost any other action game, none of the hazards capitalizing on the unique qualities here. Probably a lot to expect from a licensed game, but the action is so far removed from any facet of the Ghost in the Shell series that I sort of wished that the devs had been able to ditch the IP entirely, free to construct whatever abstract and outlandish obstacles they wanted.
As with a lot of the middle-of-the-road arcade games I’ve talked about, the fact that its best ideas are still lying dormant isn’t some cardinal sin; start this in the evening, and let its novel movement system and pulsing DnB soundtrack hold you over till sunrise- maybe daydream about what it could be in the aftermath.

Sands off much of the rough edges of the first, but doesn’t innovate massively either, mostly ending up as a more comfortable trek through old ideas.
For instance, I didn’t mention the issues with screen crunch with the original, with lots of blind drops into instant-death spike traps, but it’s mostly remedied here with much of the stage design leaning into the hazards that will damage you and eat away at your overall rank- but not kill you. While getting bombarded by offscreen enemies is still a pain, overall the threats here a much better fit for the dimensions of the GBA screen and the tremendous mobility of your character. Gimmicks like timing your jumps to avoid geysers of frozen air or speeding across a minefield are relatively simple, but they are a huge step up from the first game, which seemed almost willfully designed not to account for any of these limitations.
The idea of tying your score at the end of levels to gaining new moves is a cool one too, and while its another system that the series would toy around with further (in this iteration it’s an all-or-nothing: you have to come into a level with an “A” rank or above to unlock a new move) it’s a powerful incentive to replay and really learn levels. With so many scoring systems, there’s a fundamental question of “why even engage with it,” and this gives clear answer to that: because you’ll miss out on the full range of your kit if you decide not to (and also because you’ll get called mean names like [SLUGGISH EDGE])
That said, for the mechanical improvements it does make, 2 is way too familiar in its scenarios- retreading through much of the first game only without the same curveballs in its mission design, and further compounded by the fact that it’s hitting all the notes of a regular Megaman title. Realizing that the back half of the game was going to be spent fighting the Guardians from 1, and then going into the formality of its boss rushes and final gauntlet made the game feel deeply inessential- like a Black Label version of the first. (This all might be due to the fact that the first Zero was meant to be a self-contained game, while 2 and 3 were developed together, the sophomore effort seemingly saddled with the baggage of vindicating its own existence in the wake of the first and laying the foundation for more interesting titles ahead.)
The best moment here is probably its midpoint, with a pair of missions where you’ll first run through the wreckage of the failed assault on Neo Arcadia, a pretty easy but very atmospheric section that calls to mind some of the best upsets of 1, and then racing your way through an airborne armada to defuse a bomb before it hits the resistance base, rapidly working your way through a succession of boss fights and some of the better platforming sections. This sequence doesn't just work because of the strong execution, but because it feels like the game is finally throwing off its comfortable template for a moment and really committing to a standout set of levels that are totally their own.
Otherwise, it’s a decent obstacle course, but not an essential one.