Platform: XBLA (reviewed) | PSN | PC
Developer: Digital Reality
Publisher: Digital Reality
To say that SkyDrift looks good for a marketplace arcade title wouldn't really do it justice. It's as if Blur downed a bottle of Skittles vodka, had a night of passion with Diddy Kong Racing and gave birth to an airborne destruction derby that is like a colourful banquet for the eyes. Deliciously rendered environments, jungles, deserts, seaside vistas and towering mountains melt into a rainbow horizon as you run and gun your way to the finish line.
SkyDrift pits eight players against one another in a race with a simple aim: win, by any means necessary. You start out with only two planes, each with only a single skin, but there are eight planes in total to unlock, with four skins four each. All of the planes have different statistical weightings across five categories: speed, boost, acceleration, manoeuvrability and armour. more interestingly, the differences are really noticeable and you'll find yourself plumping for a favourite relatively quickly.
Getting to grips with your plane is very simple. Accelerate with the right trigger, decelerate with the left. You use the left stick to pitch left and right and vary your altitude, with the right stick used to augment turns by going side-on and pulling off acrobatic stunt moves. These along with slipstreaming, hugging the ground, squeezing through gaps, cutting off your opponents and blasting them out of the sky will earn you Boost, executed by pressing 'X'.
The courses offer up pleasant variety of wide open spaces, combined with tense, claustrophobic caverns where precision is everything, and there are often multiple routes through the various tracks as well. Sizzling sounds slither from the speakers when you near a lava stream, sea spray drips down the camera if you try to hug the ocean too much. The game sees you racing through ravines and careering through caverns, streaking through jungles and dodging erupting volcanoes, gliding over glaciers and slaloming through icebergs and hurtling along tropical beaches and through mountain passes. You can afford to graze the ground or your surroundings a little bit, but the well designed courses will do their best to see you knocked out of the sky as much as your fellow flyers.
Indeed, it is in pitching yourself against other fellow flyers that the game really comes into its own. The same could be said of any combat arcade racer, really. You don't really buy Mario Kart to play by yourself.
Whilst it is important to note that SkyDrift does boast a seven stage singleplayer campaign, it's also worth pointing out that there are only six original tracks to flit around. True, there are mirror versions of each, and they are rendered in staggeringly beautiful detail for a downloadable title, but it means you quickly learn your way around those tracks and there's not much variety to be had in terms of actual racing. It's tense to begin with, but less so after half hour when you've gotten used to the controls and the layout.
Powerups litter the courses like
Opal Fruits Starburst, with a straightforward arsenal on offer for the discerning pilot. Cannons give you limited machine gun fire that's very handy at close range. For enemies a little further afield, missiles can be obtain that, once you've allowed the lock-on to snap onto your adversary's behind, can be unleashed individually or all at once for maximum explosive devastation. Shockwaves cause damage and slow down other denizens of the skies and mines are, well, mines. There are defensive options too, pickups both for shields and mid-air repairs. You can hold two powerups at any one time and juggle between them by tapping 'Y'. Picking up two of the same will result in a second level powerup: mines will be bigger, you'll able to fire multiple rockets, the cannon will do increased damage etc. and any powerup you obtain can be exchanged for a little bit of Boost should you wish, with stacked powerups giving you more juice.
It's really the dogfighting that makes this game an enjoyable one. The very motto - 'If you can't overtake them, shoot them down!' - perfectly encapsulates the game's main strength, and arguably one of its major weaknesses. You see, you never really get the impression that you're in control of the race. Just as with Mario Kart 64, when you thought you'd gotten yourself a massive lead on Rainbow Road, only to have Yoshi zoom past you out of nowhere, SkyDrift tends not to reward skilful racing, preferring to toss you back into the cauldron and making for races that, although enjoyable, can sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste of frustration in one's mouth.
Online, of course, the formula proves magnificent. Battling it out with seven others over the internet is great fun, and probably where most buyers of this game will spend their time. With badges to unlock and leaderboard scores to chase there's something to be aiming for, although we do rather hope that Digital Reality might consider supplementing SkyDrift with further courses, should the game prove successful. The 'Downloadable Content' button on the menu suggests that this might well be a possibility.
There are a few gripes, though. First of all, shiny though the game is, it does feel a little on the light side. 1200 points gets you six tracks (twelve if you count the mirrors), eight planes and six powerups, which when you think about it, and then play the game, really isn't much. Once you've unlocked all of the planes, there's very little incentive to go back to the singeplayer. Finally, although the online component is very good, games such as these are made for local multiplayer. Granted, the scope and detail of the courses would mean that four-way splitscreen would be a little squashed, but it's still a little disappointing not to have the option.
All of that said, Skydrift does put a big grin on your face and what is there is very good indeed. Frantic, furious and fast, it's a hidden gem of a title that makes a nice change from artsy 2D platformers and twin-stick shooters. At worst it's a little shallow, in terms of content, and sometimes frustrating, but SkyDrift gets things right more often than not and can prove to be a tense and exhilarating little diversion. It's functional, frenetic and, best of all, jolly good fun.
- Looks gorgeous
- Tense, frenetic gameplay
- Good fun in multiplayer
- ...though a local option would have been nice
- A bit light on content perhaps
- Right stick controls can be a little disorientating at first
The Short Version: Digital Reality have delivered a good looking, silky-smooth arcade racer with some lovely track design and some fast-paced, frantic aerial action. Although we'd have liked to have seen more tracks and weapon variety, taking the game online with seven other players is a blast. A simple premise, executed very well indeed. And did we mention that it's beautiful.