Have you ever sat around playing Crossy Road (our review) and found yourself wishing the game was less like Frogger, and instead more like a slightly toned down Bullet Hell experience? Although I can’t personally say that I’ve ever engendered such a notion, this was certainly an idea that crossed the minds of Matt Hall and Andy Sum — of Hipster Whale fame — alongside Ben Britten and Matt Ditton. This quartet — realizing that the world’s perceived deficiency needed rectifying — then joined forces to form Mighty Games, ultimately resulting in today’s review of Shooty Skies (out now, free).
As Shooty Skies — much like Crossy Road before it — is absolutely devoid of anything even vaguely resembling a plot, I’ll instead move straight along towards how the game controls. There’s only one active input method here, and that’s the ability to freely drag your chosen hero about — in any direction whatsoever — with your finger (although it will take some time for the airplane to catch up if you move too quickly). Finally — so as to further keep the controls as simple as possible — your plane will be endlessly blasting away whenever you’re touching the screen, and your guns all have infinite ammo as well.
This means the bulk of your concerns within Shooty Skies will be avoiding the various obstacles flying to and fro, as well as making sure your bullets are correctly lined up whenever you need to destroy something. In particular you’ll want to be sure that you take out enemies carrying coins (more on this later), as well as any presents you come across (because apparently still wrapped gifts are no good to you). These gifts will either contain helpers that assist you by temporarily spraying bullets everywhere, or additional fire-power (coming in a variety of various classical Shoot’em Up bullet spray patterns).
One point of interest here is that — unlike in most other vertically scrolling Shoot’em Ups — all of the power-ups you gather during a single life will cumulatively stack together, rather than overriding each other. You’ll definitely need the resulting unholy carnage — assuming you survive long enough — as Shooty Skies will reach nigh on Bullet Hell esque levels of clutter mere seconds after starting a session, and it only gets worse from there. You should furthermore be warned that you won’t be rote memorizing this trip, since — much like Crossy Road before it — the entire experience is fully randomized each and every time you press start.
To help you with all of this carnage is your heat-seeking special attack, which you can charge up by simply letting go of the screen (which coincidentally means you’ll almost never be able to safely use it in the first place). One nice feature of charging up your missile barrage is that it also causes all loosely floating coins to immediately fly straight towards you, which is sometimes safer than trying to manually grab them. These coins are then used in a monetization scheme that will initially seem completely identical to Crossy Road’s methods, yet it actually has some unique peculiarities setting it apart.
The first issue would be the illusory increase in coin acquisition rate: since it might initially seem that you’re grabbing coins far quicker here than you ever did in Crossy Road, at least until you learn that 500 coins are needed to operate the capsule machine. But don’t worry, the coin pay-offs from watching ads — as well as the occasional cool-down clock prizes — have all been appropriately increased to match this newer pricing standard. You can furthermore — as is the norm for games inspired by Crossy Road — purchase specific heroes for $0.99 each, rather than waiting patiently for the capsule machine to finally dole out the desired hero (rather than just giving you more duplicates).
So far this is all perfectly par for course, and I probably wouldn’t have had any complaints worth putting forward had Shooty Skies’ monetization scheme simply stopped here. The biggest problem is centered around the non-stop deluge of ads you’ll experience while playing Shooty Skies, at least if you ever want any hope of unlocking of the game’s alternate heroes sans IAPs. Basically put: while most of you will be doing rather well to grab more than thirty coins during a single run, you can easily earn multiple hundreds of coins simply by watching the “optional ads” offered each time you fail.
Now before you all rush to point out that Crossy Road also made watching ads the primary key determinant of success, rather than actually being good at the game, you must remember that Shooty Skies is an inherently faster game. Even when you know what you’re doing here, you’re more or less guaranteed to be struck with a game over screen in a mere pittance of the time it’d usually take you to do the same within Crossy Road. While I can certainly appreciate the fact that Shooty Skies deliberately wants to be a far more white-knuckled affair, given its material, I haven’t yet pointed out that you can also continue a single time — either by paying coins, or watching an ad — whenever you die.
So not only are your end-of-game ads — which are basically the only real determinant as to whether or not you unlock new characters — coming fast and furious, there’s extra ads being shown between these in order to pay for continues (and these don’t give free coins). Now before you get the idea that you could avoid this veritable ad-blitz via slowly earning coins on your own, Mighty Games will be one step ahead of your there by only making the capsule machine option appear at the end of runs where you’ve watched ads. So to recap: you die quickly, ads are the only practical way to get coins, ads are the only affordable way to continue reliably, you can’t spend the coins you’ve earned via skill until after you’ve chosen to watch ads, and after all that you almost always get duplicates.
Now don’t get me wrong, the core game play of Shooty Skies actually is a lot of fun; or at least it is when you’re actually playing the game, rather than just watching yet another advertisement. While it doesn’t completely ruin the game, your game play experience will certainly be diluted over time by the non-stop advertising barrage (and — as I already covered — you’re not really allowed to ever truly ignore it). I really feel that you should — at the very least — be able to spend your coins on capsule machine attempts, rather than only on limited-time upgrades, without having to first watch yet another incessant ad.
Anyways — overly aggressive advertising aside — the chief reason I haven’t yet described how this game looks is because that’s a task not easily put to words; you are — after all — fighting YouTube cat videos one moment, and people with shopping carts the next. However — despite how utterly random things can be — it would behoove you to memorize each of Shooty Skies’ varied villains, as knowing exactly what each of them will do next is the key to survival (now only if game mastery actually mattered, rather than just ads). Naturally — keeping in line with the legendary Hipster Whale release that Shooty Skies obviously aspires to — all of this is presented via a delightfully cubist art style, that additionally manages to be far more detailed than anything in Crossy Road ever was.
Furthermore, each of your various selectable characters — once you unlock them either by paying out real money, or watching way too many ads — will come with a unique missile barrage during their special attack, and often come with custom background scenery too. While none of them actually change up the game play — unlike Pac-Man’s appearance in Crossy Road — some of them are certainly more animated than others, such as Selfie Cat (whom constantly takes selfies, which then appear briefly at the bottom of your screen). Interestingly, it is only the body of your currently selected character — rather than the bulk of your airplane — which needs to be kept safe and sound (meaning that some of Shooty Skies’ wider characters are actually an increased liability).
Shooty Skies — a game produced with the help of Hipster Whale alumni — gives player an endless world of randomly generated Shoot’em Up madness, all delivered via some very weird cubist artwork. While the game play itself is fun (although quite hard), and the controls are extremely easy to pick up, it’s somewhat disappointing that skillful mastery doesn’t really matter. The primary advancement method in Shooty Skies is to endlessly watch ads, and these ads — thanks to the games’ high difficulty curve — tend to come at you mind-numbingly fast without ever relenting.