This was an unexpected entry in the series. In late June 2014, a local independent video game store, Gaming Source, suddenly closed its doors. As a result, they had a going-out-of-business 50% off sale. I managed to get down there on the last day, and while most of the good stuff was gone, I did manage to pick up some things (The previous entry being among them), including Spy Fiction, Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within, Track & Field II, and today’s entry in the series.
Released in 1990, Captain Skyhawk was developed by Rare of Battletoads fame, and released by Milton-Bradley of Scrabble fame, Captain Skyhawk combines several genres into one game. Being as this is a Rare game, and having memories of playing it once at my uncle’s and having it destroy me, I was dreading the challenge that awaited me.
More on that in a bit, though. First the plot: Captain Skyhawk is broadly similar to Independence Day, in that you’re a pilot trying to fight off an alien invasion. The aliens have built four bases on Earth designed to power a super-weapon. When the super-weapon is fully charged, it will fire and destroy Earth. Earth’s top scientists, meanwhile, are working on a secret weapon to destroy the enemy weapon. Your mission, as Captain Skyhawk, is to destroy the bases, keep the scientists well-supplied, collect the secret weapon, and destroy the doomday weapon of the aliens.
To do this, you’ll fly through 8 missions, each composed of three stages. The first stage will be an isometric shoot-em-up along the lines of Zaxxon. You can control your altitude, as well as your speed (Using the Select button to slow down), as you fight off the aliens and either destroy their bases, drop supplies, or pick up portions of the secret weapon you’ll use to bring the aliens down. The second portion of each mission plays more like the fighting portions of Top Gun, as you take to the skies to shoot down enemy pilots in a more flight simulatoresque environment. Each enemy shot down earns you a credit that you can spend on upgrades, but beware, as the pilots will start fighting back, shooting missiles at you to try and bring you down. The third stage involves docking with a space station. While this will probably bring back memories to trying to land the ship in Top Gun, it’s pretty simple once you learn the secret to it. Then you can spend your credits at the store, before repeating the cycle.
The store sells either upgrades to your main cannon, or other limited-use weapons. Frankly, the cannon upgrades are all you need, as they allow for a more rapid rate of fire, and given how the game works, using the other weapons tends to be more trouble than it’s worth. The game is difficult, but mainly due to the fact that you get a total of 3 continues, like Battletoads. Lose all those continues, and it’s all the way back to the beginning of the game. Unlike Battletoads, dying tends to be pretty forgiving in this game though. Dying sends you back to a checkpoint, which is typically only a second or two back of where you died. Game Overing sends you back to the start of whatever stage you were in. You don’t even lose your cannon upgrades when you Game Over! While I dreaded how difficult the game was going to be, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Maybe it’s just because I’m experienced now, but it wasn’t as bad as Battletoads, and certainly wasn’t in the same league as Cobra Triangle or Snake Rattle N Roll. The game isn’t very random, and you’ll pick up on the patterns, and the game’s behavior, as you go through it. The latter in particular makes the game easier than it appears at first.
Graphically, the game is simple, especially in the space-shooting sections. The ground is represented by squares, and the elevations tends to be pyramids. According to Wikipedia, the music was composed by David Wise, but there isn’t a whole lot of music in the game, outside of between-level interludes and boss fights. And the boss fight music isn’t that memorable, either in-game or out.
In all, Captain Skyhawk attempts to be two games at once–shmup and flight combat simulator–and succeeds reasonably well at both. If you like either of those genres, give the game a try. It was never re-released, so like many of the games on this list, EBay is your best bet to do so.