Please Don't Eat The Flying Cat Sandwiches
I did not think I'd be writing about accessible iterations of Breakout twice in less than a month, but Sky Racket wasn't on my radar until very recently. Released in October of last year, developers Double Dash Studios are bringing the game to PAX East to hype up a console release, and those promos got my attention. It's always thrilling to see a released game that feels tailor-made for your sensibilities, so I knew I had to play it sooner rather than later. Combining brick breaking with shoot 'em up action and more than a little TwinBee, Sky Racket is a feel-good arcade original with charm to spare.
What is Sky Racket?
So, how does one combine bullet hell with brick-breaking? The devs call it a Shmup Breaker, and it's a pretty straightforward concept. Among every enemy's barrage of damaging shots is small round balls of energy. Your character can slam those back at foes to attack, and they'll also bounce around clearing away other foes while they go. It gets rid of the static nature of Breakout while preserving the fun of lining up combos. There are even Arkanoid power-ups in the form of animal buddies that provide more direct attacks against troublesome blocks.
The TwinBee comes in the form of the overall worldbuilding, which leans more cute 'em up than shoot 'em up. The entire world of Sky Racket is gleeful cartoon nonsense in the same vein as past indie hits like Shutshimi. Not only do all the blocks you're destroying have sharp teeth and beady eyes, but they're joined by flying cat sandwiches, bananas with parachutes, and disguised tanookis that want a hug, even if it weighs you down. There's no real logic to the proceedings, which is logical considering Sky Racket's inspirations. It's a delightful paradox, and players will likely find that it's best to remember that it's just a game.
This goes doubly for the bosses, which take the Yoshi's Island approach. At the end of each planet on your cosmic journey, the big bad comes on screen and makes one of their creatures grow into a huge threat. In the case of the tanookis, the little guy went from a minor nuisance to a huge luchador throwing energy folding chairs in your direction. It's all the kind of out of the blue enemy design that drives you to want to complete levels and see what comes next.
Beyond just the enemies, I must make special mention of Sky Racket's sound design. Everything from the logo treatment when you boot the game up to the jingle when you get a game over is straight out of a 90s arcade. Best of all, it's not a soundtrack that recalls any specific game. Along with the enemies, the presentation feels like a wholly original work, a cabinet hiding in the corner past the pinball machines that you just never saw before. The graphics also feel era-appropriate, even if the speed and the colors take advantage of more powerful hardware.
How does Sky Racket feel like an arcade classic?
For all the arcade trappings, Sky Racket doesn't restrain itself to an imaginary pursuit of quarters. Each level feels like a satisfying accomplishment all its own, short enough to not need checkpoints but long enough to challenge players. Beating each stage is your primary goal, but Sky Racket keeps track of more hardcore devotees who want to get through without getting hit or slam everything possible with their racket. It's an optional in-game achievement system that compliments the Steam Achievements and provides something for those who desire skill above all else.
This all makes for an arcade experience that's imminently completable and satisfying to master. I will say that Sky Racket doesn't quite overcome all the inherent problems with brick breakers. You'll still get a single ball stuck on one side of the screen, frustratingly drifting around as your combo meter fades into nothingness. Since the enemies keep moving even if you don't hit them, this doesn't halt your progress, but it can be frustrating during some boss encounters. When you're expected to fight back against huge odds, waiting for a projectile to hit is the wrong kind of tense.
Still, you can't fault Sky Racket for problems with its genre. The overall package is a stunning arcade offering, a mixture of mechanics that could generate as many clones as Slay The Spire and still stay fresh. If you're into SHUMP action or especially Breakout clones, Sky Racket is a must-play experience that offers hours of fun. Now, if you excuse me, I owe a certain wrestling Japanese forest sprite a few more rounds with my space racket.
TechRaptor covered Sky Racket on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer. The game will have a showcase at PAX East 2020 this weekend and plans to come to console later this year.