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SummaryDoesn't even touch the original
The GoodOK, let me make one thing clear. The freeware game SkyRoads has my vote for the most worthwhile 400kb download in the history of electronic games…unless you’re someone with a social life who plans to keep it. SkyRoads Xmas is a sequel of sorts, which contains 30 all-new levels, and it has a Christmas theme. Sounds like a dream come true.
But after playing through Skyroads Xmas, I confess I feel traduced. With so many new levels, Skyroads Xmas promises days of exciting gameplay. While it does take days to wade through, they are not what I’d call fun.
I’m not saying that it’s one of those B-class ripoffs that you shouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. On the contrary. Many of the elements that made the original SkyRoads so mind-blowingly addictive are still present. You control a spaceship, and you speed across colourful roads in outer space, dodging and jumping over obstacles, riding inside pipes, and desperately trying not to get killed. If you crash into an obstacle and you’re travelling too fast, you blow up. If you run out of fuel or oxygen, you lose control of your ship (and then usually crash into something and blow up). If you fall off the road and into space, you die. And if you run over one of those dreaded red tiles, you blow up. To replenish your supplies of fuel and oxygen, you run over a blue tile. Light green tiles speed you up, dark green tiles slow you down. Grey tiles make you slide and lose control of your ship. There is also a “gravity meter”, which shows how much gravity there is. Less gravity means you can jump higher. That’s Skyroad’s (and Skyroad Xmas’s) gameplay in a nutshell.
The first couple of levels are usually pretty simple. But as the game progresses, things get hairy. You end up having to complete dangerous jump sequences, search frantically for that elusive blue tile before you run out of fuel, and ultimately rely on luck and timing to reach the finish line.
Other than the new levels, the gameplay of Skyroads remains the same. Basically the only other changes worth speaking of are the new backgrounds they’ve given us for some of the levels. While they certainly lend it a “Christmassy” flavour, but I wish that they had instead put some work into innovations in actual gameplay. While not being a bad game, per se, I can only wonder as to what a true sequel would have been like.
The BadWhile Skyroads Xmas inherits many good points from the original, its flawed nature means I can’t do more than halfheartedly endorse it.
The new levels themselves are of mediocre quality. There are a few gems (the one second to last was pretty neat), but 90% of the levels are boring, repeditive, or slap-the-keyboard-with-frustration-hard –- mostly the final one. They have none of the character of the original levels. They smack of rushed design. I can imagine some project manager going “meh, we don’t really have a lot of time to invest in this game, so let’s just cut corners wherever we can, and make the levels insanely difficult to compensate.”
One thing the designers of the levels apparently don’t realise is that there is a very fine line between “challenging” and “frustrating”, and Skyroads Xmas does more than flirt with it. Sure, Skyroads was difficult, but Xmas makes it look like a walk in the park. Most of the levels in Xmas are shorter than in the original, but they took me twice as long to finish.
Another annoying feature is the “Jump Master”, which regulates how far your spaceship can jump. For instance: if I jump towards a distant ledge, but the speed I’m travelling at means that I will completely overshoot my mark and whiz off the other side, then the Jump Master will slow me down slightly so that I land on the narrow ledge safe and sound. Basically, it speeds you up or slows you down to compensate for poor timing and judgement. As in the above example, the Jump Master can really save your bacon if you’ve mis-judged a long jump, but equally often it kills you. For instance, sometimes I will jump towards a narrow ledge, have gauged the distance perfectly, and then the Jump Master will speed me up for no apparent reason and cause me to crash. When this happens for six and seven times in a row, at the same jump, I found myself wishing that there was some way to disable it. The Jump Master was included in the original, but here it seems to have been given a lot more leeway.
The cool soundtracks from the original Skyroads are back, but while that heavy, operatic rock and those synthesised guitar riffs sounded great with a game set in outer space, they sound wildly out of place in a game with a Christmas theme.
Ultimately, the game just doesn’t have the magic of Skyroads. I played through all the levels, but mostly out of a sense of obligation. I kept thinking “come on, when am I going to get on to the good stuff?” When I finally beat the last level, I wondered why I hadn’t instead done some useful with my time.