Nintendo’s PilotWings appealed to a selective group. While some players thought it was the best thing since Metroid, others found the mission-based flight boring and tedious. Those players will likely feel the same about Sky Odyssey. It’s a flying adventure game — there isn’t anything to blow up, there are no fighters to shoot down, and there are no hostages to rescue. But there are mountains that require iron nerve and precise timing of fuel dumps to get over, and missions that involve in-flight refueling via a moving train. Some players may not find it terribly thrilling, but for those who are looking for aerial excitement, Sky Odyssey is a must-own.
Sky Odyssey contains five different modes: Adventure, Sky Canvas, Training, Target and Free Flight. The descriptions of these modes sound deviously simple. Just fly an airplane through several different missions (in Adventure), create skywriting images (Sky Canvas), learn to fly properly (Training), fly through some rings suspended in mid-air (Target), and just cruise the countryside (Free Flight).
The Adventure mode tells the game’s story. Players take on the role of a pilot flying a variety of missions in an unexplored area of the world. Four islands make up a mysterious environment, where harsh weather and treacherous terrain make flying small aircraft dangerous as well as difficult. Players attempt to accomplish a variety of tasks, with the ultimate objective being the discovery of an ancient ruin. In order to uncover the ruin, players must recover pieces of an ancient map, which usually involves landing in an abandoned temple.
The missions range from simple point A to point B flights, to much more difficult maneuvers, such as landing on an aircraft carrier in the middle of a raging storm, or suddenly losing engine power and having to use rivers and waterfalls to make it back to the airstrip. It’s these missions that make the game incredibly fun and addictive. One of our favorites requires pilots to dump fuel in order to make it over a steep mountain range in the middle of a horrendous snowstorm.
The missions in Adventure mode contain some of the easiest tasks in the game, however. Playing the Sky Canvas mode requires pilots to use smoke to draw objects in the sky — which sounds far easier than it is in reality. The Target mode requires high speed and precision flying in order to make it through a required number of targets and land safely within a time limit. While these challenges are certainly entertaining, they can also become quite frustrating as pilots attempt again and again to make it through a tough flight.
The payoff for finishing missions is well worth it, however. The game starts off with three basic airplanes (the Sword Fish Mk. I, Bf-109 and Pulse Jet), but players can unlock many more, including a UFO and an Autogyro (a jet helicopter). Players can also get new additions to the airplanes — such as new engines, wings, cockpits and the like — to improve performance. The ability to customize the look of the aircraft, from the color to the logos, is also entertaining but doesn’t add much to the gameplay.
The real fun is in the variety of missions. Tasks such as flying through gorges and narrow chasms (where it’s necessary to spin the aircraft to squeeze through cracks) make the game more exciting than anything that requires mounted rocket launchers. The realtime weather systems also add a bit of uncertainty to free flights, because pilots might run into a raging thunderstorm unexpectedly.
Our biggest complaint with the game is its graphic presentation. At first glance, the game looks a bit more like a PSOne game than a PS2 title. The trade-off is understandable — as pilots climb to higher altitudes, the horizon stretches on with minimal fogging and pop-in during flight — but many players may be less than impressed with the grainy textures and tears in the terrain.
What the game lacks in graphics, it more than makes up for in gameplay unlike the ones in , however. There are two ways to control the airplanes: Easy mode keeps the plane level and turns it when the stick is moved, and Normal mode lets players perform loops and barrel rolls. The plane response is quick and intuitive, and the slightly dumbed-down flight physics make it easy to pick up and play, but with realism to keep things challenging.
The incredibly varied flight environments will keep players busy for days as they explore underground caverns, plateau-ridden deserts, dense jungles and snow-capped mountains. And those environments are simply huge, stretching in size to 450 by 260 miles. In other words, this game is a plane lover’s dream come true.