The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards I’ve devised in collaboration with the community to celebrate the sorts of things that never get celebrated in end-of-year roundups! Find out more here — and feel free to leave a suggestion on that post if you have any good ideas!
Last year, the Least “Retro” Retro Game award specifically celebrated an older game that still plays well today for one reason or another.
Perhaps it’s a timeless classic that has remained constantly excellent as the years have passed. Perhaps it’s something you didn’t appreciate much in your younger days. Or perhaps it’s even something that went overlooked or underappreciated in its original time, only to seem even more innovative and distinctive when looked at from a modern perspective.
I’ve got a great one in mind from among the games I’ve played and written about this year, so this was an easy decision to make.
And the winner is…
Flight games have held a fascination for me since I was a kid. I used to mock my father for his insistence that subLOGIC’s Flight Simulator II “wasn’t a game”, but I very much enjoyed the occasions he taught me how to fly it and make sense of its complicated controls; I felt like I was actually learning something.
I also had a lot of fun with the military flight simulators of the 16-bit era, particularly those from MicroProse. Those struck an excellent balance between convincing realism and immediacy, allowing anyone to get up in the air and dropping bombs on things with only a cursory glance at the manual required to get started.
I’ve always been interested in creative, non-violent experiences, however, and given that an enthusiasm for real-life light aircraft is generally a non-violent pursuit, I was a little surprised that there aren’t that many games out there that explore this gentler side of riding the wind. Most people know about Nintendo’s classic Pilotwings games, of course, but outside of that? There aren’t many.
There is, however, Sky Odyssey for PlayStation 2, a game that is peculiar in that if you mention it to someone who actually played it on its original release in 2000, you will be met with a veritable torrent of gushing, effusive praise that will drench you in enthusiasm from head to toe… but if you mention it to most gamers who have been around for as long as I have, they’ll more likely shrug their shoulders and say they’ve never heard of it.
This is a shame, because Sky Odyssey is fantastic.
Taking on the role of a nameless, faceless explorer of the ilk found in 1940s adventure comics, it’s your job to fly your rickety old biplane into a mysterious archipelago of islands in the Dark Sea in an attempt to track down the legendary tower Maximus and discover the treasure held at its summit. In order to do this, you’ll need to acquire several pieces of an old map that have been inconveniently scattered across four islands, and in order to do that you’ll need to successfully navigate your way through some perilous and geographically diverse scenery.
Sky Odyssey is split into discrete missions, each of which have a specific non-violent objective to accomplish. Sometimes this is as straightforward as safely traversing a canyon to a landing strip at the other end; sometimes it’s a more complex affair requiring you to drop supply packages on campsites in the middle of a howling blizzard. There’s a ton of variety over the course of the game, meaning that things are kept interesting and exciting without you ever firing a shot at anyone.
Most of the challenge in Sky Odyssey simply comes from your aircraft battling against the forces of nature — and this is something that can vary hugely according to which aircraft you’re flying. The biplane you start the game with is lightweight, slow and prone to getting buffeted around by heavy winds, for example, but that low speed also allows you to be quite precise and careful. Conversely, alternative craft that you unlock later each have their own pros and cons, making it important to pick the right one for both the mission at hand and your own personal flying style.
While it won’t take most people too long to make it through Sky Odyssey’s main “adventure” mode and see the ending, a considerable amount of replay value is added by the different aircraft and the game’s ranking system. You’re graded based on how quickly you get through the mission — scoring no points at all if you fail to beat a “par” time — as well as how many fancy aerobatic manoeuvres you can incorporate into the completion of your objectives: specifically, loop the loops, rolls and low altitude flight.
The tricky part is the fact that the objectives themselves are pretty tricky to accomplish, even without doing so upside down or scraping your wingtips on the grass. So you need to watch out for suitable opportunities to show off your fancy flying rather than just attempting to complete the entire mission while continuously rolling. Although there’s nothing stopping you doing that, either.
I consider Sky Odyssey this year’s Least Retro Retro Game because there’s still nothing quite like it out there. It’s a markedly distinct experience from Pilotwings, and there hasn’t really been anything like it ever since. Consequently, despite some graphics that kind of looked like ass even on its original release, this is a game that has aged beautifully in gameplay terms, and which I’d love to see a modern remaster of or sequel to.
Sadly, with developer Cross disappearing off the face of the planet not long after Sky Odyssey’s release — apart from composer Kow Ohtani, of course, who would go on to score Shadow of the Colossus — I don’t see that happening. Unless any independent developers want to step up to the plate, of course!
The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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