Reviewed: October 6, 2011
Released: September 7, 2011
I want to hurl a few old school titles at you, and if any of these grab your attention then you owe it to yourself to hop on Xbox Live Arcade (or PSN for the PS3 folks) and download the underappreciated gem that is SkyDrift. Mario Kart...Crimson Skies...Quantum Redshift...Wipeout XL...Jet Moto...What do these titles all have in common? All are definitive franchises, representing classic gaming genres which been sorely overlooked in the recent years, leaving a void for old school gamers looking to recapture the excitement of those early years of 3D console gaming.|
Hungarian developer Digital Reality realized this void and has filled it with their unique title SkyDrift – which successfully blends Mario Kart styled racing, with Crimson Skies flavored aerial dogfighting, and a unique multilayered power-up system resulting in a high flying, white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat racing experience that hearkens back to the glorious days when futuristic racers like Quantum Redshift, Wipeout XL, and Jet Moto were the rage. See how I tied that all together?
On its surface, SkyDrift is a straightforward lap-based racing game that just happened to takes place in the sky using propeller-powered aircraft. This in itself is nothing new – we have had airplane racing games since the first flight simulators back in the early all the way through classic titles like N-Gen Racing and Diddy Kong Racing. It’s what is within SkyDrift that really makes it unique.
To start, SkyDrift may play like a kart racer, but it sure does not look like the typical kart racer. No oversized characters, no giant flowers, no kitschy backgrounds – SkyDrift’s courses look like authentic landscapes, with breathtaking mountain ranges, tight canyons, and treacherous industrial parks. I feign to call the crafts “airplanes” because they really are more like the fantastical Steampunk inspired aircraft featured in the classic Xbox title, Crimson Skies. The various oddly-shaped flying machines each exhibit unique speed and maneuverability based on their wing and engine configurations – the proper selection of plane can be the deciding factor on the highly technical racing courses.
Thankfully, the tight navigation is aided by dual-analog flight controls that are no less than spot-on; the left-analog stick controlling general elevation and turning, the right-analog controlling “knife edge” and barrel roll maneuvers allowing the planes to squeeze through tight mountain passes, bite into hard turns, or evade enemy attacks.
No proper kart racer would be complete without a solid set of power-ups, and SkyDrift does not disappoint with its color-coded scheme relating to “Speed”, “Attack” and “Defense” abilities. Rather than having one type of item at each hot location, SkyDrift stacks the various power-up up to three columns wide and sometimes one to three rows tall. In this way, gamers can pick their choice of the six available abilities – leveling up any matching items already in their inventory. So, an inventoried stage 1 missile can be upgraded to a stage 2 missile by picking up an additional missile power-up. On the other hand, unwanted items can be absorbed to provide additional boost speed or aid in repairs.
SkyDrift looks absolutely fantastic, with beautiful backgrounds and a breathtaking sense of elevation. The aircraft feature damage similar to Crimson Skies, with engines and accessories catching fire and filling the air with plumes of smoke – believe me, there are few things to put you on the edge of your seat like seeing your airplane’s only engine go up in flames a half lap from the finish with a plane’s length between you and the lead. Even the audio quality is surprisingly solid for an Xbox Live title. With an array of background music tracks and unique sound effects, the audio definitely helped add a sense of authenticity to the presentation.
And that brings me to probably the best feature of SkyDrift; the amazingly tough, but fair, AI competition. For a seemingly low-budget release like SkyDrift, I don’t expect such good competition from the pre-programmed competition, but it would be hard to distinguish between SkyDrift’s racers and human competition online. Speaking of online, SkyDrift does feature an online racing mode for up to 8 players - but at the time of tjis review the competition was a little sparse. The largest group I could find was a two player group, and they kept booting me from their game lobby until I was able to explain my situation. Then they promptly kicked my ass in a series of races. Ego bruises aside, SkyDrift’s online play was without any noticeable glitches or graphical slowdown, and the visuals were every bit as solid as in the singe player racing.
If you were to pick SkyDrift apart you would be hard pressed to find any individual gameplay elements that have not been seen before – but as an entire package SkyDrift is a surprisingly fun and unique take on the racing genre and worth every penny of its $15 cost. But do not take my word for it, since SkyDrift is an Xbox Live Arcade title you can download the Trial Game for free and give it a test flight before committing.