Developer: Software Creations
Released: September 1989
US Cartridge ID: NES-2S-USA
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 1.5 megabit
Mapper: SL1ROM (64k PRG, 128k CHR)
In Taito’s 1989 NES port of the 1987 arcade game, Sky Shark (known as 飛翔鮫 / Hishouzame in Japan and Flying Shark in European territories), the player takes on the role of the ace pilot in the most renowned American flight squadrons to take to the skies of World War II combat. Managing against all odds to break through the enemy front lines, a
lone Warhawk pilot glimpses the enemy command post where American POWs are being detained. Without a moment’s hesitation, the plane banks sharply to make its approach – the fate of America’s finest lies in the skilled hands of a lone wayward patroit.
Sky Shark takes place over five levels, with the player piloting a World War II era Curtiss P-40 Warhawk over hostile territory in an attempt to rescue Americans captured in the service of their country. All five stages feature a number of hostile elements, both grounded and airborne, that seek to end the player’s tenure as the number one pilot for the Allies. Playing similarly to most top-down shooters (notably 1942, though far superior in quality), Sky Shark excels when the screen is filled with enemy combatants, exercising even the most skilled player’s reflexes and ability to memorize formations that appear on-screen.
In the vein of most arcade games of the 1980’s, Sky Shark is unrelentingly designed to brutalize the player, and forces the lone plane through an endless gauntlet of seemingly insurmountable challenges. There are a few boons granted the player: bombs, which are
generously distributed through each level, allow the player to obliterate anything directly in front of their plane, and upgrades for the P-40’s guns are provided by destroying an incoming group of red enemy fighters, cumulatively allowing for up to seven simultaneously fired shots at a time. Unfortunately, one hit kills the fighter, and the destruction of the plane negates any of the power-ups that have collected.
The graphics are reproduced faithfully, accurately mimicking those of the original arcade release (albeit with a significantly reduced color palette). Several onscreen elements are often featured at once without a hint of slowdown, and are always recognizable and expertly rendered: the details feature a fantastic level of detail rarely seen on Nintendo’s 8-bit machine. This level of detail does, however, come at a price – when the onscreen action becomes too hectic, enemy fire (missiles, in particular) start blinking in and out of view, resulting in some cheap and unfair deaths. Compounding this is the questionable hit-detection, guaranteeing that the P-40 will be downed at times by bullets that don’t seem to even graze the plane. Though this is a rare occurrence, it certainly happens often enough to leave the player with the impression that the game isn’t always entirely fair. There are also often incidences of tanks firing on the player-controlled plane while obscured by jungle foliage, and of enemies continuing to fire once off-screen, ensuring several unexpected deaths.
The sound is well done; thankfully eschewing the arcade version’s formulaic shooter soundtrack, famed Commodore 64 composer Tim Follin provides the amazing tunes for
his first Nintendo outing on the NES version of Sky Shark. Reminiscent of European computer soundtracks of the 1980’s, Follin’s soundtrack provides an always appropriate, infinitely hummable set of songs that will stick with the player long after the game ends. The controls are accurate and responsive, though the experience improves immeasurably with an NES advantage joystick, allowing for autofire and a more authentic arcade feel.
Sky Shark is an excellent game, but its extreme level of difficulty evokes the same feeling of discouraged rage that hardcore fans came to love with the “bullet hell” shooters that would become popular in the late 90’s. Further echoing this sentiment is the lack of a “true” conclusion: once the fifth area is cleared, the game loops back to the beginning, offering the desire to lead the high score table as the main reason to continue playing. Sky Shark is a quality gaming experience, but one that demands the level of dedication that only the most devoted shooter fans will appreciate.