Action, Super Nintendo Entertainment System
The faint memory of a certain childhood game had been nagging at my brain for years. All I could remember was that it involved a dog, a spaceship, and beaming down to different planets to collect items. I asked my fellow gamer friends, and conducted occasional Google searches, but to no avail. While writing the review for Zombies Ate My Neighbors, I found a familiar sounding game that utilized the same game engine as Zombies - Big Sky Trooper. This was the forgotten game I had been looking for!
Sometimes the nostalgic overload of finding a long-lost classic can be so strong that it clouds your judgment of what would otherwise be a terrible game. Sadly, with Big Sky Trooper, I can say that the revoltingly bad gameplay was able to break right through my rose-colored glasses.
The game begins with a mission briefing by a man who either is on some sort of 3D TV, or is literally so large that he is busting out of a giant window. I'm not even sure what the setting is supposed to be, but presumably it's a spaceship of some sort. The player chooses to either be a boy or a girl, and after some pointless aptitude tests (that are impossible to fail) you are launched into a canine spaceship which serves as your base of operations for the rest of the game.
|You're watching a video on your ship, OF your ship. So meta.|
Given a map of nearby planets, the player navigates to one of their choosing (with plot-important planets marked as goals). The "slug" aliens that occupy each planet must be eliminated before the player can move on to the next. As you arrive at a slug-controlled planet, it begins with an Asteroids type game. And right about here is where my nostalgia love began to chip away. The controls are horrendous. Unresponsive. Nonsensical. Even after a relentless barrage of enemy attacks, I still never managed to die at this stage of the game.
Once on a planet, the game changes format. The player runs around zapping lasers at the slug enemies and collecting completely unexplained powerups and items. It's a very sparse game mode, and sadly, what 99% of the game is comprised of. The planets take place on looping screens that are generally very tiny. Later planets are slightly more interesting, but still repetitive.
Attacking enemies is a real chore. Though utilizing the same engine as Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Big Sky Trooper somehow manages to make it worse. Enemy hitboxes are a few pixels wide, and hitting them sometimes requires some seriously tedious repositioning. The player's zapper range is too short, so the only way to really kill any of the erratically moving enemies is to get so close that you take a fair bit of damage before eliminating your target.
When I was young, I distinctly remember spending hours and hours playing this game. Playing it through now, I could barely force myself to last for half an hour. I'm baffled at how I figured out some of the spaceship mechanics as a kid, because as an adult it took me an honest five minutes to figure out how to even land on a planet. It's a lot of confusing menus and mechanics to wade through just to get to what is a very bland and repetitive game.
The VerdictVisually, this game isn't half bad. I actually enjoyed the oversized sprites and colorful, bold graphics. The gameplay, however, is about as exciting as a wet saltine cracker. The redundancy hurts. The story is essentially nonexistent. Do not buy this, unless you need an extra drink coaster or paperweight.
The AlternativeIf you like the general themes of Big Sky Trooper but not the game itself, what's a good alternative? The obvious choice would be Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Same control scheme but leaps and bounds ahead in gameplay, replayability, and general fun. Thematically, I would have to pick Robotrek, another lesser-known game. I expect to do a writeup about that one in the near future, because it's absurdly fun.