Many kids dream of becoming a fighter pilot when they are young: slicing through the clouds, perfectly executing barrel rolls and overtly defying death and gravity. When you’re just a kid, it’s easy to imagine being the next Top Gun (or Iceman for that matter).
Then of course, reality sets in, and you realize that not every average Joe gets the opportunity to fly multi-million dollar aircraft while an American flag flutters in the background and strings of Jimi Hendrix’ Star-Spangled Banner pump through your headset. You realize that the rare opportunity to do so went out the window with your high school growth spurt and hereditarily imperfect eyesight (still love you, Mom). Jetting across the blue in a bullet of taxpayer money now requires a lengthy tour in the military and that’s if you don’t get relegated to flying a svelte-deficient supply plane.
But at the end of the day, there are bigger disappointments in life. Sure, maybe no one recognizes your inborn abilities in the saddle, but you can still come home to Star Wars: X-Wing on your old x86 PC, Warhawk for your PS3, and Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy on your iPad. And the latter affords a certain portability that an F22 Raptor unfortunately lacks. Hit “More” for the rest of the review!
Before I get deeper into the review, I need to explain something. I won’t be reviewing Sky Gamblers for its potential as the videogame of the year. I’m sure this has been said before and will be said again: mobile games usually cannot contend with console or PC games. That’s not to say that iPad games can’t be brilliant or creative, it’s just that those are few and far between. Having said that, there’s certainly a console-quality feel to Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy, and it is definitely a fully-featured production.
Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy is beautiful, even on my last-generation non-Retina iPad 2. When I see games like this on a pencil-thin slab of screen, I fear for the spoiling of my children. My generation suffered through 8-bit graphics and game cartridges you had to blow on for three minutes before entering into the 2D fun of dodging pixelated fireballs on a fuzzy tube television. Current technology dictates my first child will be starting her gaming career with instant-loading games boasting Playstation 2-or-better graphics on a fully portable union of aluminum and glass that sports a better resolution than a 50-inch plasma television. Forgive me while I revel in a bout of nostalgia and scour eBay for a used NES to help my future children understand where we started. Or maybe starting with an Atari will build the appreciation even more.
Sky Gamblers looks that good. While many iPad games lean toward a cartoony feel, Sky Gamblers aims at semi-realistic graphics. The shadows, the light reflecting off the plane’s fuselage, the lens flare effect when flying directly into the sun; it’s all there and it flows seamlessly.
The gameplay in Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy is largely as you would expect: you fly around shooting projectiles at various targets while rendezvousing between checkpoints that progress the storyline. If you’re disappointed that I just described 90% of the plane-flying game genre, I’m sorry.
The good news, though, is that it’s well-executed. One of the most notable victories for the designers here is in the artificial intelligence of the enemies. These enemies are not clunky; they fly well, sending off flares to distract your homing missiles and occasionally lacing your screen with bullet holes.
I recommend taking the tutorial in Sky Gamblers mainly because there are at least four different ways to fly your plane and using the tutorial will help you find the one that is most preferable to you.
Sky Gamblers is not short on control schemes. I thought I would love to steer the plane via the built-in iPad accelerometer; I was quite wrong. Not only do you look ridiculous wheeling around an iPad if you’re older than age ten, but it just didn’t seem to work very well for the game. I can’t speak for all iPads, but mine doesn’t seem to appreciate the precision movements required to expertly fly a plane so I ended up steering the plane with grandiose swings that made it appear to my on-looking wife that I was trying in vain to smash the iPad on the ground.
I later found a setting in the Controls menu that allowed for an increase in the accelerometer sensitivity, but I still found it less-than-ideal to tip the iPad so far forward just to get the plane to descend. There’s also a control scheme where your accelerometer movements are used to pan the camera around the outside of your plane while you fly. This mode is good for inducing frustration and motion sickness and poor for actually flying a plane. I found the “casual control pad” mode that allots the player a control stick on the left for steering and one on the right for controlling the plane’s speed, to be the most enjoyable and responsive, but I won’t fault the developers for providing so many options.
Once you’re ready to climb into the cockpit, you’ll find yourself at home quite quickly. The weapons and flares are placed intuitively near your thumbs and expert maneuvers such as pitching and yawing can be easily completed with a swipe of your finger. Since both types of missiles in the game are heat-seeking, firing accurately at enemies is largely a practice in keeping them on the screen.
For the machine gun, the game provides crosshairs set at a distance ahead of the enemy plane so that your bullets will cover the airspace between your planes before striking. It’s a touch of realism that’s not lost on this reviewer.
There are 10 levels in the campaign of Sky Gamblers, but the scenery changes quite frequently. The story follows an army pilot assisting with the retrieval of a top-secret weapon that’s been lost.
*Spoiler Alert* During the mission, your peers turn against you and you eventually join the Sky Gamblers, an elite group of rogue pilots, to destroy the weapon so it won’t fall into the wrong hands. Oh yeah, the weapon is in the Arctic so you are fighting enemies from tropical islands to glacier-filled waters. The story is laid out in one or two comic book-styled pages before each mission. The artwork for the story was solid, but I found the writing to be lacking. This may be nitpicking for a mobile game like Sky Gamblers, but the minimal story is one of the few glaring issues I had with the game.
On another note, the audio in the game is a strong point. While some of it feels like generic action movie fodder, the final level music sounds like a wonderful mix of Wagner’s “O Fortuna” and a James Bond movie soundtrack. The sound effects are realistic, as well; I especially enjoyed the sound of the thrusters as the plane rifles up to speed.
Crank up the volume to really get into the action. The sound effects are excellent.
Lastly, I would say that Sky Gamblers is mostly kid-friendly. The violence is not intense or graphic, mostly just small explosions. There were no expletives in the story or the voice acting, either, so it should be great for your little aspiring pilot.
Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy has a plethora of game modes. The single-player options alone include:
- Team deathmatch
- Defend the base
- And 100 dogfight missions
On top of that, there’s an online multiplayer system built into the game, which can be used with Game Center or without. If that weren’t enough, there’s also an achievement system to unlock new planes. All of this makes for a complete package. Even though some may consider the campaign short, all of these alternatives make it easy to jump in for some instant aerial combat.
If you dig deep enough, there are things to dislike about Sky Gamblers. I already mentioned the mostly absent story, which could be disappointing to anyone who seeks an emotional or mental connection through gaming.
My other qualms mostly deal with repetition. While there may be over 40 planes to unlock through the achievements, to my knowledge there are only three weapons (I didn’t unlock everything). Furthermore, though the locales change, the gameplay rarely does. You’ll always be locking onto three enemy types: planes, tanks, or carriers, and there are no real variances in the types of missions in the game.
I actually found myself getting excited when I was told to fly through a canyon or land the plane, but those instances are rare. The addition of some aerial acrobat missions — flying through rings or dodging balloon mines — would add break up the gameplay and appeal to a greater audience. There’s also no option to increase the difficulty. I would say I have the skills of an average gamer, and I didn’t really feel challenged until late in the campaign. Namco Networks recently released a sequel to Air Supremacy called “Sky Gamblers: Rise to Glory” so perhaps some of these items have been addressed in the new game.
Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy is a joy. It’s no wonder it was featured onstage during the most recent iPad event. I’ve rated the game a 9 out of 10 because, frankly, perfect is difficult to attain, and I thought a well-crafted story would’ve taken it to that level. Even at $4.99, Namco Networks America has provided such a refined, top-notch product that I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to anyone interested in high altitude thrills. While you’re daydreaming about the intricacies of the Stealth Bomber, you might as well pick up this game and log some cockpit hours.
Sky Gambers: Air Supremacy is an aerial action showcase with tight controls. Kids and adults alike will find plenty of replay value here for hours of flying fun.9
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