Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Hidden Gems 2005 Volume 3

I went shopping for some pre-owned games on Friday afternoon, and one of the games I ended up buying was Sky Odyssey for the PlayStation 2. I used to own this game back when the PS2 was still fairly new on the scene, and I absolutely loved it.

Playing it evokes memories of games of old such as both of Nintendo's Pilotwings games, and an arcade machine that Namco made called PropCycle. This machine head a set of bicycle peddals and you would have to careful judge how fast you had to peddle in order to control the speed of your gyrocopter as you fly around trying to burst all of the baloons in the level.

Sky Odyssey is a the closest thing to a proper flight sim you're likely to find on a console. Although I hasten to add that if you're looking for shooting and destruction you've come to the wrong place (the Ace Combat series is perfect for that sort of thing). This game is all about the pleasure of flying and enjoying the landscape laid out below you. It's an exciting adventure that will take you through rocky ravines, ancient temples, underground caverns, snow-capped mountains, through the eye of a thunderstorm and much more.

The handling of your plane feels very authentic, and although this takes some getting used to it is a big part of the reason why the game is such good fun to play. It's immensely satisfying when you come in for a smooth landing having just spent the last 15 or so minutes dodging landslides and falling stalagtites or whatever else the game throws at you. In one memorable mission your engine fails about two thirds of the way through the level, and you have to touch down on the river and use the air brakes to steer you away of the rocks as you hurtle down the rapids.

As well as the main Adventure mode which features about 15 missions and multiple routes, there are a couple of other modes which are well worth your time as well. These include Sky Canvas, where you have to draw certain shapes with coloured smoke trails (ala the Red Devils), Target (where you have to go through 6 targets of the same colour, red or blue, and then land on the runway of the same colour for maximum points), and finally Free Flight, where you can just explore the environments at your own pace.

Graphically, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. While the weather effects, such as wind, rain, snow, the spray of the ocean and other such environmental effects are very well done, the textures are a bit uninspired at times and the levels are a bit blocky. This was a first generation PS2 title though as I said earlier, so you can't really expect too much. Besides, the game has got it where it counts, in the gameplay. You will be eager to see what challenges the game throws at you next, and the rousing adventure soundtrack only serves to increase the level of excitement and spur you on. Plus, each time you complete a mission you are given a grade based on certain criteria, such as the amount of time taken and whether you managed to go through all of the checkpoint rings in the stage. This spurs you on to retry the stages until you get an A grade, which allows you to choose an upgraded part for your plane.

If you do manage to find a copy of the game you shouldn't have to pay too much, about £10 at the most, but good luck finding it as it's fairly rare (sadly, it never sold that well to begin with). I regretted selling my copy for a long time and I'm very glad I stumbled accross another copy years later. I definitely won't be parting with this one any time soon!

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