We have Rogue-likes and Rogue-lites. Sky Rogue introduces us to Rogue-flights.
There’s a Rogue-like for everything these days. RPGs, shooters, even BMX riding games all have games with Rogue elements ー perma-death, procedurally generated levels, and random items being most common. Well, now there’s Sky Rogue to bring the genre to arcade flight-sims.
Feeling somewhat like Afterburner, but no longer on rails and with a slower pace, Sky Rogue has you fly around a small set of islands fending off enemy aircraft and destroying buildings. Success sees you earning money to upgrade your plane and weapons for future missions, whilst defeat sends you right back to the start of the game, but with some points to unlock new equipment for future runs.
As you go through your runs, you’ll end up with a large number of planes to choose from, ranging from light and nimble planes that focus on evading fire, through to heavy bombers that specialise in destroying enemies before they can get a shot away. Weapons include lock-on missiles, cannons, bombs, and dumb-fire rockets alongside defensive items such as speed boosts and flares. All this variety is nice, but some of the items are clearly more useful than others. Bombs are hard to use, and cannons are pretty weak, meaning they tend not to get used very much. The lightweight aircraft are fun, but they get demolished in seconds late in the game.
Missions boil down to taking off from your aerial base, taking out one or more primary targets, and then returning home to finish the stage. There are often numerous air and ground-based threats that should be destroyed to make things easier for you. Beyond that, there are plenty of enemy buildings that can be destroyed before you finish up and head home. Everything you destroy earns you money for upgrades and mid-mission repairs, and this is kind of where Sky Rogue starts to show its weaknesses.
The aerial combat is fun enough, as you swoop around to get a missile lock before taking down your opponent, but you earn very little money from this. The real cash comes from buildings which are often protected by anti-aircraft weapons. Once you’ve wiped out anything that’s a threat, you end up spending over ten minutes flying around the map mopping up buildings for cash. This just isn’t fun and feels more like a chore you have to slog through to ensure you have enough money to do well later on. It would have been a fairly easy fix simply by reducing the number of meaningless buildings and increasing the money earned by destroying threats, rebalancing the spawn rates to compensate.
I don’t want to be too down on Sky Rogue, as the dogfights are fun, especially in the final few missions. You’ll fight your way through swarms of enemy fighters and interceptors, launching flares to shake missiles and pulling off near-fatal maneuvers inches from the ground to get behind an opponent. Destroying an opposing base to prevent reinforcements from arriving so you can more easily take out the mission objective is enjoyable. It’s just disappointing to die, restart and have to tediously grind money again to make you powerful enough to continue. I recognise that this is often an element of Rogue-like games, but this grinding kills the pace that many games in this genre rely on to encourage replays.
On the positive side, the controls are sharp enough, with a choice between arcade and simulator style controls. The differences aren’t huge, but I appreciated having a simulator option being as I’m more familiar with that kind of setup. The visuals are nice too, using a low-poly style that makes the colours on your plane and the ground pop well. The variety of skins for your flying fighter is nice as well, but I could see an argument to have these as unlockables for completing certain tasks. The visuals for the enemy aircraft weren’t nearly as noticeable, but that may be because I was often whizzing by them at high speed.
The sounds are fine, with plenty of explosions as you destroy your opponents, and loud enough sounds if a missile is trailing you. The music is a touch disappointing as there only seems to be two main tracks during the levels. What’s there is nice, but a bit more variety would have been nice.
Variety is what really brings this down at the end of the day. There’s fun to be had, but you’ll quickly find yourself doing the same thing over and over on a single run to the point that a follow-up run after your death isn’t all that appealing. There are options to skip ahead on a new run, but that means you miss out on the money from early missions. It becomes a grind, and that stops being fun before too long. The Endless mode that’s included is nice as it feels like it focuses more on the air combat, but that mode isn’t the meat of Sky Rogue. What’s there is fine, but I doubt you’d be raring for another go after you come back down to Earth.