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.
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?
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…
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!