The SNES is home to many great action titles. Everyone knows about classics such as Mega Man X, Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid. But there are a bevy of lesser known “hidden gems” that have since gone on to enjoy something of a cult following. Skyblazer is one of those games that sort of flew under the radar when it came out back in January of 1994. I missed out on it back then and was excited to finally play it in early 2006 when I had my SNES comeback. What’s all the fuss about? With the fan hype surrounding it, even back in 2006, I was anxious to see if it really was as good as many were claiming. I was only 12 years late to the party, but better late than never!
Skyblazer is known as Karuraou in Japan. To no one’s* surprise, the US box art was “modern and hip” while the Japanese box conveys a more anime-inspired cover.
*Unless you’re someone who wonders what SNES** stands for.
**Surely Not Everyone’s Stupid!***
***[Quit this asterisk nonsense! -Ed.]
If Skyblazer plays with a certain air of familiarity, that might be because you’ve played Ukiyotei’s first game, Hook. Skyblazer was their second, and the similarities between Sky and Peter Banning are quite similar.
I’VE GOT THE POWER!
Sky will gain key magic powers throughout his journey. They’ll eat up magic points of course, but you can restock said points by killing enemies. Randomly, refills will drop. Use these skills to even up the odds.
THE STORY GOES…
Things start off with a bang. A heavy downpour and lightning flashes make for a striking introductory stage.
Showing off his magical prowess, Sky launches the Super Flash. It only consumes one magic bar and is generally useful in most situations.
Clinging to walls like Spider-Man, Sky knows how to make a dramatic entrance.
Speaking of dramatic, this is a great level to play on a dark stormy night.
Faltine’s Woods makes for a nice jaunt but I’m still racking my brains out over exactly WHO IN THE BLUE HELL IS FALTINE!? Nobody by the name of Faltine ever appears in Skyblazer. So pray tell, WHO!? *grumble*
Faltine’s Woods is too short a stage. Actually, that’s a recurring theme with Skyblazer. The stages are often over right before you can *really* sink your teeth into them.
Clinging to the side of a roving block as it transports you across a fiery pit of hell is rather satisfying. Be careful of what lies at the other end, though…
Skyblazer isn’t too hard a game, but it does ramp it up a bit later on. Mr. Genie here is a cakewalk. He’ll throw some fireballs at you but they float slowly and are easily avoidable. He can only be damaged when he’s in the lamp.
CLIFFS OF PERIL
Flying Hero, released on the Super Famicom on December 18, 1992, was developed by Sting Entertainment who later went on to make one of my favorite SNES RPGs, Treasure Hunter G. Anyway, that flying enemy in Skyblazer there always reminded me of the hero from Flying Hero.
TOWER OF THE TAROLISK
Skyblazer has some cool stages but this is arguably the most memorable and notable of them all. It’s cool to see the tower rotating as you jump about.
Magical powers, like the Comet Flash, come in super handy here.
Beware of the spiky platforms… time your leap just right! Once inside the tower, you’ll have to deal with spiked walls and assorted nasties.
The Tower of Tarolisk is very reminiscent of an old 1987 video game by the name of Nebulus. Created by John M. Phillips, Nebulus was released to various home computer systems such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64.
Crossing great distances is made a lot easier thanks to the Comet Flash. Talk about style, Sky’s got it in abundance.
Disappearing blocks appear just to make life a little harder. Brings back some bad Mega Man memories…
Making it to the top is a great sigh of relief. The walls inside close in intermittently, so don’t get crushed!
Notice how this giant spinning armored eyeball boss gets bigger each time you hit it. It makes the later jumps rather difficult. As you can see, I barely clear the hurdle on the fourth time.
Eventually it’ll get so big that you can no longer jump over it. Instead, kneel for safety. It’ll come awfully close to clipping you, but Sky will be in the clear.
Magazine previews of this giant rotating eye boss back in the day always caught my, er, eye. Sorry. But yeah, as a kid you couldn’t help but love it.
GATEWAY TO EASTERN PLAIN
You knew a slippery ice level was coming. Step on those bad boys and they’ll give way. You don’t want to be riding one when it does!
Riding an ice wedge has its moments, though. Or rather, just one moment. But what a fine moment it is.
Flying Hero, I hate to kill you but sorry I have to! Later on, Skyblazer turns into Mario Blazer. Very reminiscent of Super Mario World, eh?
WATCH OUT THERE, SKY! It’s slippery so don’t let your forward momentum impale ya!
Another cool ass boss! With each rotation it makes in an attempt to crush Sky, the gap in the side of its wall will randomly change. Be prepared to jump, kneel or even cling and climb over!
WHOA, GET DOWN! Sky almost becomes a flattened pancake, but luckily he is able to duck in time. I love how the monster’s eyeballs are taken out one at a bloody time.
Naturally, the wall moves faster after each rotation. By the end, things get rather hectic… and deadly.
FALLS OF TORMENT
Skyblazer is largely a linear adventure, but this part gives you some freedom of choice. The Falls of Torment (what a name) has rotating logs that make standing still on them an impossible task. Pair that with some vile creatures and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster.
LAIR OF KHARYON
Throughout the history of video gaming, water-based stages have tormented and haunted generations of gamers. This to me is the most annoying level in Skyblazer. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about breathing underwater. However, there are a lot of switches to flip and annoying currents that correspond to said switches. I dread having to play this level. Still, it’s got nothing on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You know what I’m talking about!
THE SAND RIVERS OF SHIROL
Jumping from pillar to pillar as they steadily descend is not as easy as it may appear to be. Thankfully, the control is pretty good so it comes down to your skills and timing. But there’s hardly a safe haven waiting for you, thanks to fire breathing beasts.
GATEWAY OF ETERNAL STORMS
There’s a lovely fall (and even Halloween-lite) atmosphere to this stage, making it perfect to play on a late darkening afternoon this time of the year. Use your magic powers to clear the path.
Creepy how killing this demon leads to his head falling off and then it disturbingly turns into a one-eyed spider with gangly legs. Nightmarish stuff, really.
Skyblazer is a beautiful looking game, with plenty of pretty parallax and scrolling. There’s a nice mystic quality to it all.
STORM FORTRESS OF KH’LAR
Gimmicks lead to more diversity, and this stage is no exception. Watch the currents. It’ll guide your path.
Finding the exit is always a relief. It’ll lead you to more bizarre enemies but at least you’re one step closer to the end.
Reminiscent of the horizontal shooting levels from Legendary Wings. Sadly though, the control for Sky’s flight always felt annoying to me. Something about it that was slightly off. Hmm.
NOT MY GAMERA
THE LORD OF WAR
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Skyblazer received fairly strong reviews when it came out nearly 25 years ago. It even graced the cover of Super Play Magazine in December of 1993 (issue #14). EGM gave it ratings of 8, 8, 8, 8 and 7. Super Play rated it 78%.
DID YOU KNOW?
18 years ago, GameFan ran a love letter of sorts to Skyblazer. Writer ECM called Skyblazer “one of the greatest SNES games of all time.” GameFan was well known for their hyperbole and overly enthusiastic opinions, and this was no different. Skyblazer is definitely a quality action game but one of the greatest SNES games of all time it certainly is not. At least, from an objective point of view.
Interestingly enough, the man responsible for Gran Turismo, Kazunori Yamauchi, is also the same man behind Skyblazer. Pretty cool obscure little fact!
I came into Skyblazer with a ton of hype and 12 years of roaring anticipation. The previews back in the day made it look like a can’t miss classic. After reading all the rave reviews and love letters regarding Skyblazer both in print and online, it became one of the earliest SNES games I went out of my way to play during my SNES resurgence in early 2006. In the end, I was a little let down. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider Skyblazer to be a good game. But it’s hardly “one of the greatest SNES games of all time” as GameFan writer ECM put it 18 years ago. Too many flaws prevent it from reaching its full potential. I’m not a fan of Sky’s short limbs and the hit detection feels a little wonky at times. Clinging to walls is a fun mechanic, but there’s the occasional ill-advised spot where Sky will do so just because he’s near a surface. The problem arises when you don’t intend for him to latch on! And that could be the difference between winning and losing. Pressing a button to enable sticking to surfaces would have mitigated this unnecessary annoyance. Sky’s sound effect whenever he’s hit isn’t too flattering, either. He sounds a bit like Homer Simpson and it feels out of place. “D’OH!”
Still, Skyblazer gets a lot right. It’s kind of got this cool epic mystic vibe going for it, even if much of it is extremely cliché. Some of Sky’s magical powers are really fun to use and light up the screen in a dazzling array of lasers and lights. Almost every stage has some sort of little wrinkle or gimmick to keep gameplay fresh and varied. One minute you’re scaling an impressive rotating tower and the next you find yourself slipping in and out of foliage somewhere deep in the woods. The difficulty starts out rather light but quickly picks up. It never gets too hard, but later levels can infuriate with deaths caused by the odd occasional bit of clunky control. It’s things like this that stop Skyblazer from achieving even greater heights.
The graphics are really good for the most part. It’s vibrant and cartoony, typical of its era. The Mode 7 actually adds to the package rather than detracts, and of course you can’t help but admire the insane amounts of parallax. Sky looks and animates great. But every once in a while you see a crap water effect or a dull enemy design that occasionally makes you stop and wonder. The music is a delightful and eclectic mix of different styles, each one befitting of its respective stage. Ranging from calm and soothing to frenetic and frantic, a sense of real adventure jumps through your stereo system. There’s definitely a Middle Eastern-inspired flare to it all which makes it stand out from your typical SNES action game soundtrack. The boss theme will definitely get your adrenaline pumping.
The biggest weakness of Skyblazer is less than stellar control (particularly in the flying levels) and the levels themselves are way too damn small. They’re more like bite-sized sections than they are full levels. Just when you’re about to sink your teeth into a certain level’s gimmick, it ends. More than disappointing, it’s downright annoying. It’s like they tried to rush this game out in time for the Christmas season of 1993, but they still came up short and in more ways than one! Nonetheless, if you can overlook some of the game’s shortcomings and focus on the positives, of which there are plenty, Skyblazer rises above the typical crop of forgettable, fair-to-middling SNES action games. It’s not in the pantheon of the upper tier classics, but it does hold its own pretty well against the rest of the field. Best of all, Skyblazer allows you to satiate your inner child by embracing your magical powers and taking on a band of mystical mayhem-mongers all while saving the universe from an ancient evil Lord of Darkness. Hey, that’s what video games are all about.
DAMN YOU, KENNER! *SHAKES FIST*