theuselessgod's Really Big Sky (Steam) (PC) review

An indie dual-stick shmup with a hefty amount of content.

The Short

Pros

- Fast paced, psychedelic shmup with dual-stick controls

- "Planet drill" mechanic is fun and unique

- Persistent upgrades, unlocks, and abilities keep you playing

- Dynamic and fast paced action ensures no two games are the same

- Loads of game modes

- Sweet electric/techno music

- Supports the Xbox 360 controller

Cons

- Can get a bit overwhelming with stuff on the screen

- At it's core it doesn't do much different from other shmups

- Once you have unlocked everything, the draw kind of fades

Shooting stuff in space. Er, sky.

The LongSomething indie games do aside from making dual-stick shooters is making side-scrolling shmups. These "bullet-hell" games (like Jamestown) are another common indie trend, though not as common as zombies or duel-stick shooters (or the abominable hybrid of both). Really Big Sky mixes both dual-stick shooting with side-scrolling shmup action, with an abstract art style and bright visuals that seem to permeate indie games. At first glance, this is just "another indie game," following the current trends and not really going out of its way to impress.

At least, that's what I thought until I started playing it. Now I think it's awesome.

This game has a lot of modes. And yes, my Classic score sucks, shut up.

Really Big Sky has two core mechanics. You have the usual side-scrolling, dual-stick shooting for points thing. But then you have a "drill" ability. Throughout the world you'll ram into planets, where you have to quickly switch to drill and burrow through. Later stray asteroids and other rocks will come towards you amongst the enemies, requiring you to quickly switch modes on the fly. While drilling you can't shoot, and shooting does nothing against drill-able rocks, so you have to be quick.It also has a few other tricks up its sleeve. As you start purchasing from the massive amounts of upgrades, you gain some unique abilities. Like an orbiting shield that circles around you to block shots. Or the chance to randomly shoot out a mine. Or summon a massive, multi-gun oblivion ball to follow behind for a while like a demented Option before going away. Again, this is pretty standard stuff, but all mixed together it works quite well, especially considering the game gets very exciting, very fast. No slow burn here.

There's a hefty amount of upgrades available.

You gain points from killing enemies, and gain upgrade chips by picking them up after enemies drop them on death. Upgrades are all over the place, though Magnetcoil is the one you should buy first (makes you suck up chips from a wider range, getting you more money faster). Since each run can net you a decent amount of cash, and it lets you spend your points between replays, it can be hard to stop. Upgrades come fast but not too fast, with the costs dramatically increasing the more powerful they get. It's a strong system, though I could see that once you've maxed everything the draw would disappear.Bosses are also fun, and several actually use the drilling mechanic well. To be honest, most reminded me a lot of Ikaruga's, with a similar spinning one and traditional bullet-hell shooter bullet patterns. Still, if it isn't broke don't fix it, and the fact that they essentially spawn randomly on classic mode ensures things are never the same every time you play.

It saves all your stats, which is cool, but no Steam Achievements.

But the real meat comes in other modes. You can't earn points to upgrade your ship in them, but they all provide unique and cool experiences. My favorite, by far, is "Retro" mode. It axes multi-directional dual-stick shooting and instead is just a traditional, forward shooting game. The catch is that it plays kind of like a reverse Space Invaders: Infinity Gene, where you start in the 1990s and work your way back to older and older systems, with the graphics getting worse and more washed out as you go along. It's a visual treat, and the sound effects match the era you are in, which makes it a fun diversion.

Retro mode is awesome, though I have no idea what is going on.

Graphically, it looks good enough. Heavy emphasis is played on tons of effects, all the time, so it can become very overwhelming until you get used to it. Early on I had issues telling black objects in the background from stuff I actually had to drill through, which was really obnoxious. After each level you go to "WARP SPEED" and then you really can't see what is going on. However, it works, and they make sure the obnoxious purple shielding ones (which deflect all your shots, but not enemy shots, annoying!) are obvious colored over everything else since they are the worse.Soundtrack is solid, too, and you can unlock more songs and change them in the options menu. As a super-bonus, it has integrated Xbox360 controller support, which is by far the best way to play the game. It also maps "take screenshot" to the left bumper, which is a handy bonus for reviews.

KABOOM.

Really Big Sky doesn't break any ground necessarily, but it does so well with all the things it steals I have to recommend it. If you like these kinds of games you are getting a very hefty amount of content here with technically unlimited replayability, especially if you like competing for high scores with friends. The asking price for $10 is reasonably fair, but it tends to pop up in indie bundles if that is more your style (that's how I got it).Still, a very solid dual-stick shmup that manages to overcome it's genre setbacks and stand well enough on its own. And that will be enough.

Three out of five stars.

But yeah...that sky is really big. I'll give it that.
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