Captain Skyhawk – Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Developer: Rare Ltd.
Publisher: Milton Bradley Company
Release Date: June 1990
Genre: Scrolling Shooter
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
Reviewed by: bbpower
Put on your flight gear, Captain, the world needs you! Aliens have invaded our planet and built energy-sucking bases across the globe to power their mother base in space. If they get enough energy, the entire world will be wiped out, which is no bueno. It is up to you to stop the invasion and defeat the alien forces. Luckily you have a fully-equipped, deluxe F14 that Maverick and Goose would have their hands full battling and mouths drooling to have.
Captain Skyhawk is an NES game I hold dear to my heart. My older brother opened this game brand new for Christmas in 1990 and we have gotten our money worth times 100. I have played this game countless times try to get higher scores, or to beat the game without dying. I still enjoy this game today and I know anyone that plays it will, too.
Your mission is to defeat the four alien bases in an effort to cut off the power supply to the mother base in space. In order to do so, Captain Skyhawk must fly through levels and defeat the alien forces in the process. Some levels are easy, others are very difficult. There are two styles of levels players will encounter while working through this game. The main levels are 3D isometric designed and are not much to look at, but the action keeps you going as you blast aliens to smithereens. The view while playing the main levels is overhead and top-scrolling. The second style of levels is a cockpit view of the screen and the goal is to shoot down as many enemy fighters as possible. It is essentially dog fighting in its simplest form.
The 3D levels have the most action and are the most fun. This is where the base fights occur and the most enemies are waiting. In these main levels, Captain Skyhawk must stay clear of the walls. If he touches any walls, or gets shot once, he explodes. Luckily in this game, where you get shot down is close to where you start again. Once Skyhawk nears the end of a level, the music will change and the enemy base will appear. Players must destroy the pods and the center pod to knock out the base and to win the level. The base will shoot back, so players must be moving at all times to not get shot!
In the dog fighting levels, players must shoot down as many aircraft as possible to earn “Credits” to upgrade weapons and buy more missiles. The more you shoot down, the quicker you can upgrade your main cannon. The early level enemy craft will not shoot at you, but in most levels you will have to dodge missiles. After you defeat the fighters in these levels, you dock at the “Space Station” to reload and get debriefed on your next mission.
Some of the levels are different and you are not targeting a base to destroy. There are scientists working underground and Captain Skyhawk must air-drop supplies to these spots to aid in the research to design weapons to destroy the aliens. There are two levels that can be annoying if you miss your drops. If you miss, the level cycles back through the beginning and you get another attempt. The level will go on until you successfully deliver the goods, run out of fuel, or lose all your lives. When you run out of fuel you lose control and crash.
Other parts of the 3D levels are to rescue a hostage scientist. These water levels are crucial to upgrading your laser blaster to fight the mother base in space and have a different style of base to destroy. There are two scientists that need to be saved and returned to the space station. One of the two water levels has water mines throughout it. They are nearly impossible to avoid and will take you out quickly. Fly safe, Captain.
There are two “Base” levels where the speed is incredibly high and you have a red fighter jet to stop you from reaching the base. These levels are hard to navigate without dying. If you die once the speed drops back to normal, but if you make it through without dying, than nice work! These are my favorite levels in the game and I wish more levels played with this speed. Reflexes have to be spot on, or you will smash into a mountain side. The enemy fighter will continue to come back no matter how many times you defeat it, but you rack up easy points doing so every time, so keep killing.
As mentioned above, there is a space station where Captain Skyhawk returns to for upgrades and weapons. There are Cannon upgrades, Hawk Bombs, Maverick Missiles, and Phoenix Air Intercept Missiles. The Phoenix missiles are only used in the dog fighting levels and the rest are used on the regular levels. The cannon is most important, so upgrade that first. Also, it has unlimited ammo! One detail worth noting about the space station; players have to guide the aircraft into a revolving entrance and the controls are very touchy. I am not sure why the developers decided to make it a challenge, but this is a very easy place to die. So, be easy on the controls, or your hard work will be in vain.
After you work your way through the nine levels to defeat the game, players reach the mother base in space. It is called “The Eye.” You will see why when you get there, but it is a challenging level because the maneuvering is difficult and the boss has a deadly laser blast. The level is the same as the space station, which is an overhead view. To me this boss was a fail and a cheap way out when designing the final boss level. The other levels are much more exciting than the boss fight. It’s somewhat anticlimactic… to me anyways. However, it could be due to me having beaten this game hundreds of times.
The enemies are different on most of the levels. The developers did a fair job adding color to each level to “theme” them, but they are still pretty straight forward and there is nothing spectacular about any of the levels graphics-wise. Still, they are fun to play and will demand your respect until you get the hang of the controls. There are some levels where you are fighting actual aliens, but most of the bad guys look to be your own forces you are destroying.
Captain Skyhawk is one of the few games that the NES Quickshot Joystick is applicable. So, if you have it, plug it in! This neat accessory makes the game much harder and gives a more genuine pilot feel. Besides, it makes it much more fun to fire missiles using the fire button on the stick. If you are using the regular controller, the buttons are straight forward, A is fire cannons and B is fire your maverick missiles, and hold B to drop hawk bombs. In the 2D levels, B fires the phoenix missiles and A is cannon.
I love old fighter jet games and this is one of my favorite older games for the NES. Being a fighter jet pilot was a dream job of mine at a younger age, so I grew attached to this title. It may also have to do with the sentimental feeling I get while playing it, but it is still a game that will challenge you until you memorize the levels. I have only beaten this game one time without dying, so I challenge anyone to accomplish this feat. Don’t worry if you die though, continues are available, but your points will start over. Extra lives can be earned, but are hard to get.
With all factors considered, Captain Skyhawk earned a Nerd Rating of 6 out of 10. The isometric 3D graphics are neat, but it takes away from the detail the levels could have had. The game is fairly easy to beat, but it has kept me coming back for more since 1990. Any game that has been replayed for 25 years now is definitely worth checking out. The developers showed glimpses in the game of how hard it could have been, but I am assuming they backed off due to difficulty. I would have suggested two modes for this title, one faster and one the normal game play. However, this is a great game and a bargain buy usually costing under 6 bucks for a good, clean copy. So, skip on the over-priced coffee a day (which I happened to be drinking while writing this) and score this great game! Game on!
If you like fighter jet games and want to use the NES Quickshot Joystick, check out Top Gun for the NES and Top Gun: The Second mission. Also, Stealth is a good one to try, too.
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