Captain Skyhawk is one of those odd games that many people seemed to have, but I can’t quite figure out why. It has nothing special about it at first glance, It looks like a flight simulator – shooter style game much like anything from the 80’s, but with a somewhat unique viewpoint, especially for a game on the NES. Once you pick up the game, and play, though, it’s odd substream popularity makes sense. It was developed by Rare, the same company behind Battletoads on the NES and Goldeneye on the N64, among many other famous games, and was released in 1990.
Captain Skyhawk has a pretty straightforward plot – at least for 1990 video game standards. Aliens are invading, but scientists have devised a way to take out their space station. Your job, as Captain Skyhawk, is to destroy the alien bases, invasion forces, rescue scientists and deliver components to scientists so they can complete the secret weapon to use against the enemy mothership.
Oh yeah, it’s one of those kinds of games, but it’s a fun one. Somewhat of a mindless shooter, sure, but Captain Skyhawk can be a challenge – especially with the somewhat unfair later levels. The game flow is straightforward – 8 levels divided into 3 sections each: An isometric perspective trench run style flight level, where you alternate between objectives of taking out an enemy base, delivering supplies, and rescuing scientists; a Top-Gun styled over the ocean flight sequence where you take down other enemy attack aircraft, and lastly a space station docking to resupply and upgrade your F-14VTS fighter, a fictional space-capable version of the F-14 Tomcat. After Level 8, the final space station docking is replaced with the final battle with the alien mothership.
You are armed with a few different weapons in game – Air to Air missiles for the dogfight sections, Hawk Bombs and Air to Ground missiles for the valley levels, and a primary cannon which can be upgraded to extreme firing speeds as early as level 2 if you are good enough (trust me, you will need the speed.) Most enemies can be taken out well enough with the cannon, but the missiles and bombs will help, where needed.
Let’s cut to the chase and give this game a rating, shall we?
Captain Skyhawk has a very unique viewpoint, with crisp, flight simulator style designs to it’s oddly polygonal world – it’s almost like a game that tries to play within a flight simulator universe, if that makes sense. Enemy sprites can seem a little out of place, but they have a certain charm, and enemy bases and your F-14VTS look outstanding.
Captain Skyhawk has an outstanding soundtrack. While you won’t hear much of it during actual combat, instead only hearing the sound of your engines roaring away, the in between level theme that plays is one of my favorite NES compositions ever. Sound effects can be a little lacking, sometimes bordering on just plain strange, but they add a charm enough to the game themselves. Some of these effects are shared in other NES games by Rare, so keep an ear out for them.
Gameplay and Controls
Captain Skyhawk has pretty solid controls, and for an aircraft based shooter, quite the liberal hit box. You generally don’t get destroyed by anything but a direct hit, and when you die, you feel like you made a proper mistake – well, except for the mines on the last level, but that’s another story. The 3rd and 7th’s missions allow you to control your flight speed through the valley, increasing the feel of control you have over your aircraft. I don’t know, everything just feels right in the control department.
Final Score: 4.0 / 5
Captain Skyhawk is a solid game experience. It’s a title I can pop into my NES and play for 30 minutes, sometimes completing it, sometimes not, but always having fun in the process. It’s worth at least checking out if you are at all a fan of such games. It may not be a must own, but I would say you are missing out not playing it.