You know what always perplexes me? After the NES launched in 1985, it would not get any new games until late in 1986. Imagine if nowadays a game system launched and went “Well, there you have your sports games, some ports, and a few little games to back up our only first-party title. See you next year!” It’s not even like developers weren’t working on things. While gamers at the time worked on perfecting their Super Mario Bros. skills, Japan was getting some sick games for the Famicom. Case in point: Sky Destroyer!
The game is an arcade dogfighting title in which the player controls a Japanese monoplane during World War II. As you fly across the sea, you have to fight off American planes, vessels, and bombers as they swoop in to attack you.
The plane can move in every direction and the game smoothly scrolls up if you decide to take to the skies. The animation on your plane is neat, as it slightly tilts as you move around and catches fire when hit. Enemy planes also have a cool scaling effect that mimics depth and come in from a diagonal ending, so it really feels like you need to account for distance and curves when lining up shots to take them down.
Your monoplane has guns at the front and can drop torpedoes to launch at ships. Each level has a set length, after which the background changes to show the passing of time. Again, a very nice detail. You rack up points by defeating enemies and have 3 lives to work with, after which it’s straight back to the title screen.
Any hit will instantly send your plane tumbling towards the sea, but in yet another neat detail, you can still fire and control it for a while. It’s possible to score some final points and sink one last ship before meeting your end. Enemies, likewise, will sometimes be seen tumbling as well instead of instantly disappearing when shot. However, I do have to say that the game’s challenge can be steep, and some of that stems from regrettable design choices.
Enemy planes always come from above you to mimic that 3D effect, which means that wanting to shoot them down as soon as possible drives you to constantly fly up, until you have reached the maximum height. At that point, you can’t see the ocean anymore, which takes away some visual spectacle and means you won’t be dealing with boats much. It feels like you constantly need to push yourself to go back down if you want to actually have a varied experience.
Hit-detection can also feel tilted in favor of the enemy, with especially those bombers feeling like their hitboxes are the size of a pea, while their bullets will make short work of you if they come anywhere near the monoplane. Still, such frustrations were largely irrelevant, because every time I’d crack my fingers and head back in.
Sky Destroyer really should have come out for the NES instead of being a Famicom/arcade exclusive. It’s a neat title about racking up points, curiously lacking a scoreboard, that employs some neat animations and mechanics. To see a 3D effect mimicked so well this early in the NES’ lifecycle was a surprise to me.