Friday, July 24, 2009

Sky Shark (NES)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
5 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Toaplan
Published by Taito in 1988

Originally developed by Toaplan for the arcades under the name Flying Shark, Sky Shark was handled for the NES by Software Creations and published by the almighty Taito. No matter what platform we’re talking about, it was definitely supposed to be a development from what was accomplished years earlier with Tiger-Heli. As for the NES cart, it’s a mildly decent 8-bit shooter that expands on the gameplay front (now with more than just 8 direction bullets) while providing a nice atmosphere due to an upbeat music score and a comprehensive progressive difficulty.

On the surface Sky Shark takes a lot from 1942 by Capcom, which was a massive success Toaplan was surely trying to repeat. Both games share strong similarities, like the way enemies arrive in formation and overall sprite design. The most important thing is that Sky Shark stands on its own among other similar NES shmups: the terrain in every stage is very characteristic as well as the music, comprised of very cool compositions that sometimes remind me of classic Mega Man tunes. The BGM for the 1st stage is so cool it gets replayed on the 5th stage – or maybe that’s just one of the tricks they used to squeeze the whole game into the NES cartridge.

You start the game with 5 lives. The main shot can be powered up by collecting the S icons left when you destroy all red enemies from a particular formation. When the formation arrives in yellow you’ll get 1.000 points instead. Bombs are restocked with the B icons left by selected ground targets, and are worth 3.000 points each at the end of a stage. Regardless of your bomb stock when you finish a stage, you’ll always start the next one with 3 bombs available. The game has no autofire, but luckily it's not that much of a button masher either because you don't have to tap too much to get a useful firing rate.

There are 5 stages in total, and no end credits are shown whatsoever before you start the second loop. Much like in Xevious and Tiger-Heli, Sky Shark has an asymmetrical second loop, this time starting from the second stage instead of the first. To finish the first loop without lying on CONTINUES some memorization is necessary, as well as a reasonable sense of how enemy waves are scattered and programmed throughout the game. Of utmost importance is keeping your main shot powered up. If you move a lot and are able to retain a good firepower level, bombing becomes almost unnecessary and valuable bonus points will be awarded at the end of a stage. Some big enemies can present impossible obstacles, and I found better to avoid them. Since the bomb has a decent blast radius, turret concentrations were the places where I bombed the most, besides using them for panic purposes.

As fun as an 8-bit shooter can be – and this game is definitely fun – Sky Shark has some potentially upsetting flaws. There are instances where the color palette will make bullets hard to see, like in the very final part of the 3rd stage. Light bullet flicker also happens but will eventually become less of a problem, either by increased experience or reasonable pattern anticipation. Don’t even think about point blanking, and beware of borders and shots fired when enemies seem to have left the screen. If you want to CONTINUE after a GAME OVER remember to take your finger off the trigger, because the firing button will cancel the continue function!

In the high score table below, the column to the far right seems to display the % of game completion, without acknowledging further loops. In my best run I reached stage 2-4.

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