The Daily Independent: Blow Your Eyes’ Minds With Really Big Sky

The Daily Independent is a recurring feature in which we shine a light into the darkened wilderness of indie gaming, illuminating both the good and the bad of what we find there.

I never had the chance to play indie devs Boss Baddie‘s 2009 shooter Big Sky. I’m not entirely sure if this was an error on my part. I’m not the biggest fan of classic-style arcade spaceship shooters, mainly due to the fact that I tend to get distracted by all the cool stuff being crammed into my eyes and thus, am easily killed off. (NOTE: It’s also possible this is a Pavlovian response to childhood me having lost so many quarters, to just this kind of game, in countless arcades.) Having played Really Big Sky, Big Sky’s bigger, Sky-ier sequel, I can report that while I continue to suffer from this affliction, I really didn’t care. Really Big Sky might be a living nightmare for people with ADD or a serious hangover, but it’s gorgeous, and if you can manage to resist the temptation to stare like a rube and survive for more than a single round, it’s extremely fun.

Naturally, Really Big Sky doesn’t rediscover fire or anything. And that’s kind of the point – it’s an R-type/Gradius style game that delivers precisely the experience fans would expect: control of a ship that side-scrolls from left to right; a variety of colorful and destructive weapons make killing your enemies in space fun!; levels that differ in backgrounds and enemy/obstacle patterns. And it’s hard. Nintendo hard. You are piloting a flimsy spacecraft with limited lives through a non-stop parade of destruction. That difficulty, and the few extra goodies make what could be a derivative, walling-in-nostalgia experience feel fresh.

Chief among these extra goodies is a wide variety of play modes. Some, like Marathon, ‘Classic’ and ‘Arcade’ are typical for this kind of game. There’s also an up to 4-player co-op which provides a true arcade ‘plug in quarter, join game-in-progress’ experience. Boss Rush and Nightmare are kind of ingenious, but it’s ‘Pacifism’ mode that kind of blew my mind. In Pacifism mode, the player attempts to survive without use of weapons. It’s especially challenging because it’s the only mode of play that doesn’t depend in part on unleashing a massive barrage of missiles and lasers and so forth. As a result it felt like suddenly being forced to write left-handed, and I mean that in the best possible way. Difficult, yes, but recommended, because it is the single best way to get the hang of flying and maneuvering your ship strategically. You might get your ass kicked in Pacifism mode consistently but you’ll do better in other modes as a result of having played.

So back to that ass kicking, Really Big Sky is, as I’ve said, difficult. You will die, and die frequently while you get the hang of things. And that’s excellent because games like this, especially if they’re too easy, can become repetitive. Not the problem here, where enemies are numerous, seemingly inexhaustible and armed by satan himself. You, on the other hand, while not limited by (too many) concerns are, unless you’re playing co-op, the only target for hundreds of enemies. The levels rotate (as far as I could tell) quite randomly, which means instead of memorizing, you’ll need to get the hang of flying fast (see Pacifism mode, as I said). Fortunately, the high learning curve doesn’t completely screw new players over. While you will experience high casualties, your score continues to add up, and you can use points earned as currency to purchase upgrades for your ship. Those upgrades will of course make things much easier for you.

Because I’m not the biggest fan of side-scroller-shooters, I found gameplay less interesting than the excellent aesthetics. Filled with bright colors, extremely fast paced play and trippy animations, Really Big Sky comes off like an 80s disco version of the future. Explosions in space looks like glowing, ecstasy- enhanced balls of pretty lights; the stars twinkle like diamonds, sound effects have the quality of music after you’ve pummeled your eardrums for 6 hours of dancing. It’s a shame that RBS is such a small production because the perfect soundtrack? Giorgio Moroder.

Really Big Sky is beautiful, challenging, varied and has just the right mixture of nostalgia and newness to keep gamers looking for a new fix occupied and thoroughly entertained for many hours. It’s also cheaper than a bottle of wine. Final judgment? Get it. And listen to Fred Falke while you play.

Here’s the trailer:

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