Crashing and burning in Sky Odyssey (PS2)

Failure in games (as in life) has its own special rhythm. At some point, retrying the same relentlessly tough mission over and over again in Sky Odyssey, I became aware that my repeated crashes were following a pattern. It goes something like this: I start with one or two no-nonsense attempts at a mission. These attempts are cut short by the inevitable plane crash at an especially tight turn in a canyon or a tricky manoeuvre in an underground cavern. After these serious attempts, it’s a downward spiral into silliness.

It looks like an unnecessary number of dials and symbols, but actually pretty much all of them are essential, most of all the radar in the top left.

It looks like an unnecessarily cluttered heads up display with all those dials and meters but actually pretty much all of them are invaluable, especially the radar in the top left.

Instead of being more focused, more tuned in, I tune out. It’s a gradual process of gaining sloppiness, losing my dedication to the mission, and becoming more interested in experimentation and things that look cool. A few half-hearted attempts later, I go completely off the rails and start crashing seconds – seconds! – after take-off. Sometimes I even crash during take-off, which by the way is practically impossible in this game. Eventually I get bored of being tricksy and go back to the start of the cycle – serious attempts at the level, which may or may not end with a blazing fireball falling from the sky. That’s my odyssey.

One of Sky Odyssey’s best features is the balance it strikes in missions between high tension, high stakes moments and opportunities to just dick around in relatively danger-free open spaces. My preferred method of tom-foolery in this game is earning “acrobatic points”. These points, as the name suggests, are earned though rolls, loops, flying at low altitude, flying upside-down at low altitude, and combinations of the above; there are also large bonuses for doing tricks whilst flying through so-called “checkpoint” rings. Pulling off tricks in Sky Odyssey is highly satisfying, but also highly dangerous. It’s a great risk-reward mechanic that feeds on the player’s cockiness. Pessimists need not apply – you hearing me Maya?

Welcome to one of the most difficult, punishing missions in a game of difficult, punishing missions.

When your engine fails and your plane is at the mercy of the river’s current and its many waterfalls, you’ll know you’ve reached one of the most difficult, punishing missions in a game of difficult, punishing missions.

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this game, which is why I’ve made zero effort to explain for the uninitiated what Sky Odyssey is and how it plays – for that, see my entry for this game on my list of the best games I didn’t blog about in 2015. But I felt the need to return to it in written form, because for whatever reason back then I completely neglected to address Sky Odyssey’s brutal, occasionally frustrating difficulty. I can only assume it’d been so long since I’d played it, I must’ve forgot. But now that I’m re-experiencing crash after crash after crash after crash due to my inadequate piloting skills it seems absurd that anyone could have forgotten the mostly pleasurable torture that is progressing through Sky Odyssey’s twenty or so missions!

One mission in the latter half of the adventure mode in particular (see the image above) lasted somewhere in the region of 15 mins, with the most challenging parts near the end, and as with every single mission in the game bar the final level there are no checkpoints to be found. Why they decided to rub salt in the wound by inexplicably dubbing the floating rings that populate every level “checkpoints”, God only knows…

The boxart says it all really.

The U.S. boxart: most accurate representation of a game ever?

Another quirk of Sky Odyssey is how it rewards the player for doing well. Every level in the main story mode you complete with a high enough ranking earns you a new part for your plane. These parts improve various stats, including the plane’s turning and climbing ability, durability, etc. Once you’ve gotten just a few of these upgrades however you effectively run out of parts that improve these specific abilities. Instead now every upgrade increases the plane’s speed or unlocks a new speed boost ability. That sounds all well and dandy in theory, but in a game that demands dodging rock slides in narrow canyons and navigating through underground networks of caverns in a plane, speed is very often your worst enemy. Thankfully you can customise your plane so you don’t have to apply the upgrades, nevertheless it’s funny that the game’s own built-in reward system actually adds to the difficulty.

Regardless, I was very happy returning to this game after an extended absence, not least because I recently upgraded my PS2 cables from composite to RGB SCART, meaning my PS2 games now look a great deal sharper on my old CRT telly. For that, I have to thank a blog by the name of Dracula’s Cave for an especially simple and well-written guide on how to get the best picture quality out of older gaming consoles. Cheers!


  1. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game. I enjoyed the description of replaying difficult levels. I find myself having serious efforts to overcome hard levels, followed by some comedic attempts as I try to see how badly I can fail. During difficult levels (particularly ones with little explanation on how to complete them), I find myself obsessing over solutions. After failing many times, I will suddenly decide my approach is completely wrong and will continuously use a new method (despite failing many times). After changing tactics, I will find a completely easy solution to the problem and wonder how I was stumped by such an easy problem.
    I think I would have difficulty not crashing into cliffs and would avoid completing acrobatic stunts when playing this game. Do the many dials and meters help the player? They seem to make it more difficult to see the screen and work out what information is useful. It does seem strange the upgrades would actually hinder the player, considering they seem quite difficult to obtain. It also seems annoying the game does not use checkpoints, instead using useless things which are only called checkpoints.

  2. itchyheini

    Great article on what is one of my favorite games on PS2. I played this game to death and still go back to it this day.This game was brutal,so brutal that anyone that enters my room and claims they are a gamer must pass the trial of playing through a level. I have yet seen one person complete even the easiest level but each person marvel at how challenging the game is. This is the type of game that grips your gaming soul and teases you with the want to complete it 100 percent, no matter what reward awaits you. Just seeing this article has made me dig into my PS2 library once again to lift this mighty relic and punish myself once again. I shudder at attempting to play the final level which seems impossible to navigate when failing so many times. You’d be hard pressed to find a game today made in this fashion. It’s funny, I search the internet looking for a game of this type every now and then which is how I came upon this article. The closest I have ever come was another overlooked gem on PS2 called Dropship. But nothing holds a candle to this flight adventure. If any game deserved a remake,this would be the one.

    • veryverygaming

      Thanks for your comment, I’m glad I’m not the only one who found Sky Odyssey painfully difficult about 90% of the time. That final mission… you should’ve seen my face when I first made it to the second part with those rotating wooden beams, I got through one set and then at the second set I crashed. My jaw was wide open, I just couldn’t believe they’d make it so difficult at the end of a mission, and with no checkpoints – and then the game restarted me just at the entrance of the ruin. What a relief!

      Extra thanks by the way for recommending Dropship! I hadn’t heard of it but it seems right up my street. I’ll definitely give it a go. Nothing against games with combat in them but it’s a really nice change of pace to not just be shooting stuff, you know? You have to admire Sky Odyssey, or even a game like Blast Corps on N64, for just doing away with it completely.

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