Big Sky, missed opportunity.
Big Sky Infinity is a relatively unique game; it features frantic side-scrolling twin-stick light-strobe shooting action, which tries to mix the old arcade feeling with a newer lick of paint. However, it is not devoid of problems and poor design choices.
Visually, the game is decent. The backgrounds aren’t very spectacular, and I had expected a little more of a space shooter, but it does a good job at giving you the feeling that you’re in outer space and it may have been kept (relatively) simple to not cause even more chaos. While playing through the game, I found the standard enemy designs to be very bland and boring- they’re basically just 8-bit designs, and they look quite different from the projectiles, your ship, and the background. On the other hand, the user interface looks great; a design very fitting to the arcade and space shooter themes of the game.
The gameplay is utterly disappointing and chaotic. The balance is terribly off- the game is either presenting you with a nice walk in the park, or it launches you into a bullet hell in which you die very quickly. What doesn’t help is that there are several ‘cascade events’ which slow down gameplay and change up the colour palette, making it very difficult to distinguish bullets from enemies and starbits (little chunks of points that release from an enemy after you kill it). On the other hand, when the action gets frantic and there are many enemies and bullets on screen (the part which is supposed to be fun), the game horrendously lags and it becomes increasingly difficult to control your spacecraft.
Your ship is a fairly basic space vehicle that can shoot lasers by moving the right stick, and can drill and do a drill attack by respectively pressing and holding the X or R button. The drill is meant for drilling through planets, which feels like an unnecessary addition to the game but it can also serve as some sort of shield, which protects you from some projectiles and enemies but not all of them (I feel extremely uncomfortable using it to protect myself since I never know when I’m going to die while I have it on me- you can also not drill and shoot at the same time to make your time a bit harder). Drill attacks (you have four to use each session) are very powerful attacks which decimate every enemy in the vicinity and are great for using when you’re in trouble. I really would’ve liked some different attacks, or at least different ships with different properties.
Big Sky Infinity does set an example for other arcade shooters in the sense that it tracks your scores very nicely. At the end of each play through, you’re presented with a chart showing your stats from this session next to your average, and how you did better or worse. Underneath the chart is a neat little graph that shows how your score, your kill amount, the score multiplier, the difficulty and the distance increased over time. Under the ‘stats’ section in the main menu you can also view how many times you’ve played, your high scores, hit percentages, bullets fired… the list goes on and on.
The game features several modes which are all slightly different. Classic mode offers you standard gameplay, where you shoot stuff and if you die your session stops. You can upgrade your ships statistics at the end of each session with collected star bits. Arcade mode provides a similar experience, it is only harder and your ship gets more powerful by random power-up drops. Pacifism mode disables your gun- you have to dodge and drill your way through the level. Countdown mode challenges you to get the highest score in two minutes, where dying only has the consequences that your score multiplier is reset. Boss rush is what the name suggests- beat the four bosses many times in a row to get the highest score. Hell and nightmare mode seem pretty much the same (with nightmare being more difficult) and getting a high score there is really challenging. Because you unlock modes as you progress, at the time of writing I have not yet unlocked naked, marathon and remix modes. I found the modes to be too similar to each other; a difficulty setting could’ve just fixed that. It is also annoying that levels seem randomly generated and thus your chances of getting a high score not only depend on your skill that play through but also on what dangers lie on your path that time. After the first 10 minutes of playing, I already found that the backgrounds, bosses and planets are too similar and too repetitive.
If you hadn’t realized yet, this game is all about scores. If you don’t like high scores, there’s no point in playing this game, since there is no such thing as a campaign with levels in different settings- repitition is key. As mentioned before, Big Sky Infinity tracks all your scores and of course features leaderboards where you can view worldwide and friends’ scores. You can also challenge a random or a friend to a game of horse. That’s right, horse! You choose a word (i.e. ‘Biscuit’), select a mode and a statistic (for example ‘classic’ and ‘enemies killed’ or ‘nightmare’ and ‘score’) and set your own score. You then invite your opponent to beat it. If you lose the challenge, you gain a letter (in this case a ‘B’) and the first one to feature the full word, loses. The concept of this mode is very interesting, and it would be very fun if score gains and the likes weren’t influenced by factors you couldn’t control, such as annoying difficulty spikes due to a hell cascade or a speed-up.
One final ‘prop’ to the designers for the sound effects and music. They are exactly what you’d expect from a space shooter; electronic and 8-bit influenced melodies and the classic ‘pew-pew’ sounds we all love. A funny addition is the narration (which can be turned off, luckily, because it gets a little repetitive after a while); while you are shooting enemies our drilling through planets, a seemingly British man comments on what’s happening on your lush Vita screen. He has quite a few lines, and there are some interesting, random and enjoyable ones. I chuckled when he screamed ‘SNAAAAAKEEE’ from the top of his lungs when I died (for the unaware; this is an obvious reference to the Metal Gear Solid series).
When I was playing the game for the first time, Big Sky Infinity felt promising. It lays down a solid framework of many things that make arcade shooters great, has decent visuals and good sound effects and music but ultimately falls short in the gameplay department; it is simply frustrating to play and enjoy. Light-strobe shooter lovers and score junkies will find enjoyment in this title and the shmup lover occasionally, too, but even for gamers with an interest in this genre the game is plagued by some poor design choices. It can be fun at times, but most of the time it’s either boring, unnecessarily repetitive or utterly frustrating.