Blue Skies Review—Tilt a Whirl

BlueSkiesTitle

Blue Skies: Air Force Academy is another iOS title ported to PS Mobile from Rocking Pocket Games, who also brought us iFishing and Dungeon Bandits. It’s an arcade-style arena shooter where you pilot a helicopter gunship, which is a bit at odds with its title, since they are flown by the Army, not Air Force, and helicopters don’t generally fly high enough to be associated with “blue skies.”

You essentially just fly your chopper around, shooting enemies until there are no more in that level. While there’s not much mission variety, there’s quite a variety of things to shoot: blimps, jets, tanks, other helicopters, mines, and so forth. You have basically two attacks, one for the ground and one for the air. It’s fairly standard stuff, except that you are flying a helicopter. This gives you quite a bit of maneuverability. You can spin around; you can fly backwards and forwards; you can slide to the side.

Arcade Mode looks the same but has all the enemies from the start.

Arcade Mode looks the same but has all the enemies from the start.

There’s a catch, though: doing this isn’t easy. Although the game supports the buttons and sticks, it doesn’t really support the sticks all that well. While you can rotate the chopper with the right stick and move it in a direction with left stick, they don’t move the helicopter much at all. Instead, you need to tilt the Vita (or other device you are using) to really maneuver the helicopter properly.

As I don’t own a smartphone or tablet, this is actually my first experience with tilt controls, at least since the ball bearing-style games of the 1970s, before there were electronic handheld games. So, I found it rather awkward at first. With practice, it gets better, but at the same time, because you are tilting the device that happens to be the screen you are looking at, it can be hard to keep track of what is going on.

Most of the planes you fight are 1940s- and 1950s-era.

Most of the planes you fight are 1940s- and 1950s-era.

The funky controls make precise flying nearly impossible, which also makes it extremely difficult to bomb targets on the ground. While you theoretically have a bomb sight, it shows you where the bombs would drop if you were flying straight and level. That is rarely the case. You also don’t have much viewing distance in front of you, since your chopper is always pointed to the top of the screen, so it’s extremely difficult to lead a target because the target is out of your playing field until the last instant.

The game has two different modes, Story and Arcade, each with three difficulties. Both essentially play the same. Story Mode is just that, and also starts with tutorials. When you start the game’s Story Mode, you are prompted to pick a pilot. I’m not sure what difference it makes (and it always seems to be the same person in the cutscenes, not the one you picked), but it’s a cute option.

In Story Mode, you start off with weak weapons which improve as you pick up cash and buy upgrades. You get more and more of the story told in between waves. It’s not exactly the most sophisticated story in the world, but it’s not really any worse than some of the stories in Advance Wars. It’s cute and quite lengthy.

Better than a Michael Bay movie, at least.

Better than a Michael Bay movie, at least.

In Arcade Mode, you simply start off with the weapons maxed out and keep on killing until you get bored. I guess this is sort of a throwaway mode, but it could have been designed better. Many survival shooters (like the old Dracula — Undead Awakening) had breaks every now and then when you could buy upgrades. Indeed, upgrades in the game are mostly just improved weapons. Better bombs, better guns, but I would have liked to have seen other things, like, say, your chopper becoming tougher or carrying more fuel, or firing faster.

The graphics are something of a mixed bag. Your helicopter and the enemy ships are nicely detailed, as are the explosions and bullets. The water looks really outstanding, but the rest of the terrain is a mix of brown and green tiles, somewhat haphazardly patterned. When you use tiles to make terrain, you need to have a lot of transition tiles to make things look smoother. This lacks them, and it looks like you are playing on a green and brown checkered tablecloth at times. The music is really nice, though, and somewhat befitting a game called “Blue Skies,” is electronic-based.

Sometimes the sky is not so blue.

Sometimes the sky is not so blue.

Blue Skies is a solid (if unspectacular) game hamstrung by wonky controls as well as a high price, $6.99 compared to $2.99 on iOS and 99 cents on Android. If you are going to charge a “button tax” for porting a 4-year-old iOS game to PlayStation Mobile, you should at least make sure those buttons work well. I quite enjoyed Story Mode, as silly as it was, but the difficulty in bombing targets made it rather frustrating to play at times.

Edit: The price was $6.99 when we bought it, but has now been dropped to $2.99, so I bumped up the score from 6 to 7.

7/10

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Comments

4 Responses to “Blue Skies Review—Tilt a Whirl”
  1. Atariboy says:

    Looks nice in screenshots but it’s a shame that the conventional controls don’t really work right. I don’t think I’d care for the motion control after watching some YouTube videos.

  2. Chris says:

    The game had a price drop to $2.99 this week.

    This iPhone review loved the controls when it first came out so I guess it just takes some getting used to. Smartphones with tilt controls have been around for 5 years!

    http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/iPhone/Blue+Skies/review.asp?c=9201

  3. JeremyR says:

    Missed the price drop, it was still $6.99 last week when I started playing. So I bumped up the score by 1 point to reflect it.

    The tilt controls certainly work, but at the same time, the point of the Vita is that it has buttons and sticks. They should be fully supported. But as it is, you can’t even move the helicopter backwards with the stick, you can only slightly slow its forward progress. Similarly, while you can rotate the chopper with the other stick, it just moves so slowly that it’s only useful for very fine movements.

    They should work like the tilt controls – the more you tilt, the more oomph the controls have. So when you move the stick all the way back, the helicopter should move backwards.

  4. Chris says:

    Point taken. For the next update I’ll add an option to turn off accelerometer controls and let you use buttons only for devices with both. I’ll do some tweaking to make sure you have fine control over the helicopter.

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