Monday, June 4, 2012


Sony and Nintendo's Obscure 1994 Marvel Team-Up

Skyblazer is one of the forgotten gems of the SNES era. It went largely unnoticed at the time of its release, overshadowed by big-name fare like Super Metroid and Yoshi's Island. It also went unnoticed in stores, probably because of the awful box art. That's unfortunate, because it's a really good game. If it weren't for Nintendo Power devoting a couple of pages to it, I never would have known it existed. What is Skyblazer? Read on.

That's right, SONY made this game for Nintendo. This was before they were mortal foes, and development of this game finished a year before Sony began work on the self-contained Playstation.

This odd intro blurb sets up the story. Raglan is the villain of the game, but Ashura is his main minion. The Goro to his Shang Tsung, if you will.

This is it. I wish there had been a Skyblazer II, and after this post you might wonder about the potential of that as well.

The intro stage is pretty sweet right out of the gate. Rain is pouring down as the main dude, the aptly-named Sky, charges through a temple. He's some sort of monk slash sorcerer, and fights with punches, spin kicks, and energy attacks. It's rad to the max. This stage is notable because for whatever reason Sky has infinite lives and a measily four ticks of energy... this is the only stage in the game with those characteristics.

Also noteworthy: The awesome music for this stage, which sets the tone for the game right away. It's also fitting music for going with the rain and lightning that dominate the screen.

This has all the hallmarks of a good intro stage in that it teaches you how to play without you realizing it. Sky has a wall-grab, which is one of the cooler things about the game. Since the grab keeps him stationary, wall-jumping is easier than it is in Mega Man X or (especially) Super Metroid. The tradeoff is not having as much wall jump control or momentum as in said Mega Man X or (especially) Super Metroid.

The first of a number of spells Sky gets in the game is the aura wave, seen here decimating one of those weird sorcerer dudes from the box art.

Sky stumbles in on Ashura kidnapping some princess.

He then proceeds to easily dispatch our hero. This is one thing I don't like: for whatever reason, you can't move during this "fight" as Ashura pummels Sky with fireballs. Compare this to other intro bosses: in Mega Man X you can at least fight back until Vile beats you. In Super Metroid, you can actually beat Ridley in the intro stage, though the end result of him flying off afterwards is the same. Now that's one of the tougher challenges of the game. Forcing the player to stand still? Baffling. Not sure what Sony was thinking on this one. Sky being too terrified to move doesn't fit his brash, cocky character, so it makes little sense.

Either way, we quickly get over that part as Sky wakes up in some shrine. Old Man here is the other real protagonist of the game, following Sky around and giving him sage advice. He's one of the more memorable Old Men in gaming thanks to lines like this.

So it turns out that Sky is descended from a guy named Sky-Lord, which is why he has super powers. Ashura kidnapped the land's most powerful sorceress so he could sacrifice her to Raglan, and only Sky can stop them. Fair enough, let's go.

The overworld. At first it's linear, but once you get to the mainland about a quarter of the way through the game it opens up. I really like it when action games have an overworld. Very few of them do, and it's a fun alternative to a stage select.

The first "real" stage is Faltine's Woods. It has more good music... too bad the track is so short (which is the one issue with the music in this game).

It's an odd choice for a first stage, though... not a traditional kind of level at all. It has a weird design, featuring treetops and pits. Then again, none of the stages in this game are "traditional", really. It's got some of the most inventive level design I've ever seen.

1Ups are abundant in this game, and the player really shouldn't ever run out of lives after the first few stages are over. I already mentioned the short length of this game, and it's unfortunate that there aren't more collectibles to find. Something like that would really increase the longevity of this game. I suspect most of the people who played it found themselves wishing for some reason to keep replaying it after the first go or two...

Next stage? The Temple Infernus, which is incredibly atmospheric.

The music here is one of my favorite tracks in the game, if not my favorite. It conveys so much mood, and it fits the look of the area perfectly. When great game music actually fits the game it hails from, it's a magical thing.

Life is full of choices. Grab the magic meter restoring potion and risk getting hit, or just jump over?

Here's the first true boss of the game, a genie. It's invulnerable on offense, but when it retreats into the lamp for a round that's the player's turn to attack.

It's one of the easier fights in the game, and it's actually possible to one-round this fight if you're aggressive enough.

One of the coolest powers in the game is this air-dash. It does a huge amount of damage, but it gets less potent as the game goes on. Still stays useful for soaring over foes, right up to the end.

Next up is an odd auto-scrolling flight stage. Odd because it doesn't really fit the rest of the game. There's only one other stage like this. It's innovative, regardless, and pretty fun. It gives the impression that this game could have been a lot bigger; the range of stage ideas on display could have amounted to a pretty expansive game. Instead, we have unique stages like this that only appear once or twice. Then again, that gives them their uniqueness... but it makes for a short game.

Next up is the Tower of the Tarolisk, notable for how it rotates on screen as you climb it. This is how we did "three dimensional gameplay" before 1996, kids.

Comet Flash in action as Sky blazes past a bunch of gargoyles and platforms.

Here's the boss, who I presume is the Tarolisk in question. This fight is much harder than the first boss, and coupled with the difficulty of the stage that preceeds it, I can see this being the end of the line for some inexperienced players. It's too bad, because this is the last stage before the overworld opens up.
The boss gets bigger and bigger as the fight goes on, and at times it's almost impossible to not take damage.

A close win, and Sky gets the power of Heal. That's another good one, for obvious reasons. Back in the day I'd just use regular attacks for the rest of the game and save spell power for heals alone.

The brash young Sky is all up in the Old Man's grill now that he's met with some success.

The theme for the next stage is another great one. This plays for all three of the Mode 7 flight stages in the game.

Here's the flight stage in question. It's a trip to the next continent.

It's possible to collect numerous extra lives here, but the stage ends (permanently) when you take a hit. However, even if that happens you still continue with the game.

The second continent. This one has most of the remaining areas, and you have more choices as to where to go and when.

Quick tangent: this is the password screen of the game. It's one of the more majestic password screens I've ever seen. No word on what the four symbols in the corners mean...

Next up is one of my favorite stages in the history of anything, the sand falls. This place is outright otherworldly, and the music is great. Too bad the stage (and the track) are so short. The stage itself is over in about a minute or two.

Here's the music. Shortness aside this is amazing, and it almost begs to be sampled for something else in the modern age.

Comet Flash is a huge help in this area, which consists mainly of soaring over pits and grabbing on to sinking pillars.

ZOOOOOOOOOM. It's hard to make a judgment like this, but I think this is my favorite area in the game.

The second autoscrolling flight stage in the game is a spike-filled corridor. This is probably the most unmemorable stage in the game, since it doesn't particularly stand out in any way and ends in about a minute. It's basically just an entrance area for other stages.

The Gateway of Eternal Storms has an awesome background, but the stage itself is kind of lame. You spend most of it breaking blocks and proceeding slowly. This game is all about momentum, so slowing things down doesn't fit very well.

Western overworld, showing more areas. There are four major areas that are the real goal here, each one with an elemental theme. All of them (except Earth, which is available early on) have other stages blocking them. Having cleared most of the lesser areas, the elemental areas are open.

The wind shrine is majestic. There are no floors here... all you have are gusts of wind suspending you precariously at any given time.

Yet another unique stage design, as you have to use the momentum of the gusts to propel you through the air. This area is a lot of fun, and I just wish there were more of it.

The boss of this stage is some sort of wind god. This fight can be tricky since it's easy to get knocked down to your doom.

He/she/it splits into three and they all bum-rush Sky. Luckily, this isn't one of those "mirror image" fights where you can only damage one of your foes, so you can wail on any of them at any given time. Winning this fight nets Sky the Lightning Blast spell, one of the most useful in the game since several bosses are weak against it. It calls down three huge bolts of lightning that strike whatever they can. More on that later.

Next up is what I consider the fire area. This is one of the longer stages, and it isn't particularly interesting. The boss is, though.

It's a demonic chimera. What the heck is this thing? Not only does it have a huge amount of health, it is only vulnerable for short amounts of time. This leads to a pretty lengthy fight. I'm sure there's a trick to this fight (there usually is in this game) but I don't know what it is.

Jumping spin kick! Man, what a great game.

The sand river theme plays again in the next stage I take on, a shrine of waterfalls. This stage isn't anywhere near as cool as the sand river, unfortunately, since it's short and consists of a few jumps across planks.

Oh yeah, what did I get for beating that last boss? Warrior Force, which makes Sky invincible temporarily. This definitely has its uses, but it runs out too quickly for me to find myself going back to it much.

The water temple is next, which looks more like a sewer. This area is a confusing maze, and it isn't my favorite stage.

The boss is one of the tougher fights in the game. Four pods release fish that, if not defeated within a couple seconds, mutate into GIANT ATTACK FISH~!

Once they mutate, they proceed to totally tear our hero apart. The only way to survive this is to avoid them while damaging the four pods when they open. The Lightning Blast spell is incredible here, since it can take out multiple fish while also hitting the pods. It's the key to victory. I've heard that Star Fire (which i don't have yet) also works well, but I doubt it works as well as lightning does.

There's a secret flight stage if you move off the beaten path on the world map. This results in myriad lives, and leads to...

...a secret shrine. Sky isn't afraid of water, yo.

The next "stage" is another unique one. It's one screen, and Sky has to grab onto the thing in the middle of the boat to keep from being washed away by...

...the water waves from hell that intermittently crash down. This is actually a fairly tricky part of the game.

You can see the secret stage up north. I wish the game had more secret areas... to my knowledge, this is the only one.

The next area has more amazing music. Here's Petrolith Castle, the earth area.

It's the ice castle that is accessible as soon as one arrives on the second continent. As it's one of the longest and most difficult stages, it isn't recommended to tackle this stage right away on a first playthrough.

Crushing ceilings make their debut here. This is one of my favorite stages, largely because the music has a certain "pure" feeling about it that is a wonder to listen to.

I said I'd talk more about Lightning Blast at some point. Well, here it is. Possibly the most useful power in the game aside from Heal.

The boss of the castle is this bizarre wall face. It has three hit-able components, which is just right for Lightning Blast.

It's a weird fight because the boss has no real offense aside from spinning the room around and trying to crush you every so often. More SNES innovation. Sony should have made more games for Nintendo, for sure.

For winning, I got Star Fire, which shoots fireballs in all directions. Here's an uncharacteristically awful screenshot of Star Fire in action. I've heard that this power is better than Lightning Blast against some of the bosses, but I've never been a fan of it. LB seems more formidable and just LOOKS cooler.

The next stage is a confusing forest maze that loops back on itself. It's sort of a redux of Faltine's Woods, only with an added dose of annoyance. The eventual exit is hidden under a cliff midway through the level.

The next area is the second-to-last level, more or less. It's another tower, and it's full of these gold knights that are, as far as I can tell, invincible.

This place is full of falling ceilings and spikes, as if one or the other weren't bad enough.

The boss is this bad-ass dragon. It's a difficult fight since he can knock you off the platforms (plus he has more health than any other boss in the game) but it's possible to win this without too much trouble if you utilize Warrior Force and line yourself up right.

For my part, I won pretty straight-up by using Heal a lot. Winning this gets you the "ultimate power", which is...

...this. It costs half of your spell points, but it makes you invincible, grants power of flight, and causes anything that touches you to take mega-damage. Honestly, it probably isn't actually the best spell in the game, but at the point you get it, it might as well be. It's the only spell that is particularly effective against the final bosses.

One last flight stage follows, the last chance to grab some lives.

The final stage is Raglan's Citadel, and it starts with a tricky auto-scrolling vertical climb. This is almost like something out of a Mega Man X game.

Inside the citadel itself, you have to fight all (or most of) the bosses again. They're all surprisingly easy at this point with an extended life meter and all of the spells. If all else fails, Fiery Phoenix makes short work of most of them.

Behind this creepy door lurks...

...Ashura. Time for the rematch from the intro stage.

This time he has a shield that makes him invulnerable, but Fiery Phoenix goes right through it.

You can use the move twice and if you get all of it each time, Ashura won't have much health left. The fight still isn't easy, but it isn't difficult either. At least this time our hero was allowed to move.

It looks like the sorceress is rescued, as Ashura's severed head looks on creepily. BUT WAIT! There's one battle left...

...and that's the awesome-looking Raglan. This could be the hardest fight in the game, which is pretty fitting since it's the last one. Even Fiery Phoenix isn't much help here.

Here's a shot of me taking one of the several losses I took on this fight. It's a matter of figuring out his counterattack timing so you can avoid it, and it isn't easy at all. Either way, I barely won after a few tries, and...

...emerging victorious, Sky takes off without another word to anyone.

Upon the revelation that Sky is not only brash, but also kind of a dick, Arianna is all into him. Unfortunately, with Sky out of the picture, she must settle for the Old Man.

Where did Sky go, you ask? He flew away, not wanting to deal with these unsufferable people any more. Now, rad music plays as the credits roll.

Here's the rad music in question.

Awesome, awesome game, one that everyone should play once.

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