Review: Sky Gamblers: Afterburner

Surface street to the mediocre zone.

By Andy Hoover. Posted 02/20/2019 06:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Fun core gameplay; looks pretty good at times; basic combat is fun
Poison Mushroom for...
Little gameplay variety; lazy sound design; inconsistent presentation; strange glitches and performance issues

When it comes to high flying, fast paced aerial combat games, Switch hasn’t exactly been blessed with bountiful options. There’s a few titles on eShop and Starlink offers a broader, more sci-fi focused experience, but that’s really it. Thankfully, one of those aforementioned eShop selections, Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders, has gotten the sequel treatment in the form of Sky Gamblers: Afterburner.

While its forbearer takes place in World War II, Afterburner moves into the near future, which of course means moving from machine gun based dogfights with prop planes, to faster, missile focused action between jets. Thankfully, this core action is probably the game’s greatest strength despite a relative lack of variety and features. First, you should decide between the game’s two main control options, simulator or casual. The former requires more player involvement as the left stick controls both throttle and roll, which forces more involvement especially when attempting tight maneuvers. Casual controls are naturally more user friendly as the left stick only controls throttle and steering with right stick automatically maximizes maneuverability. Both options work as advertised and are really just a matter of personal preference. Either way, the act of controlling your plane is responsive and, with only a little practice, you’ll feel comfortable engaging the enemy.

Tragically, your options for taking out those foes are quite limited. Regardless of the plane you’re flying, you’ll have access to a machine gun and two types of missiles. All are reasonably effective, though neither missile really feels all that different from the other despite what feels like slight variations in range and accuracy. These also happen to be the same weapons used for taking out ground targets as there are no dedicated options for bombs or other types of armaments. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that most missions ultimately boil down to blowing up all the enemies. A few missions introduce some unique objectives, like having to stay below a certain elevation, being given short time limits to destroy enemy squadrons so they can’t alert their comrades, or flying through objective markers in order to bomb a target via a brief cut scene. These different mission types make up a minority of the game’s 15 single player levels and are often the shortest, as well. Altogether, most levels will feel rather repetitive as you put in the three or so hours needed to complete them. You can replay them at higher difficulty levels, but even within the game there are better uses of your time.

Another let down within the campaign is the presentation and story. Yes, there is a plot involving a rogue commander and friends betraying you, but all of the characters are devoid of actual characterization and the presentation is rather weak. Dialogue is delivered through silent text boxes both during gameplay as well as in the cut scenes, something that proves especially annoying during the more action-packed moments. Aside from one kind of funny line at the end, the story might as well not even be present.

The visual presentation is slightly better in that it achieves relative mediocrity. When soaring high in the air, things actually look pretty decent as the mountains, forests, and cities below look fairly realistic thanks to plenty of geometry and a legitimately good lighting system. However, swooping down reveals weak textures along the ground and even a close examination of your plane is somewhat disappointing. Also, regardless of how high you’re flying, there’s noticeable aliasing pretty much everywhere and while you’ll eventually grow used to it, it’s definitely annoying at the start. The cut scenes also prove to be a mixed bag as a few well-placed camera angles elevate certain sequences while some strangely framed and edited events drag things back down a little.

While the visuals might be okay, the audio design is actually quite baffling. When in the menus, you’re greeted by some cheesy yet serviceable generic rock, but the actual gameplay is actually completely devoid of music, which, alongside the lack of any voice acting, means you’re just left with the general droning of the jet’s surprisingly boring engine sound. There are occasional voice clips letting you know if your missile connected with the target, but that’s pretty much the only other notable thing with the audio.

After making your way through the uninspired, and surprisingly quiet, campaign, there actually is something a little more worthwhile to keep you playing. Afterburner does feature online play for up to 14 players in a variety of free-for-all, and team based modes. I couldn’t find any online matches, but the game allows you to engage in these various game types offline with bots which is probably the most enjoyable aspect of the game. Some of the objective based modes are legitimately fun as you can just focus on the perfectly serviceable gameplay. Playing any mode, including the campaign, earns you money that can be used for purchasing new planes or upgrading your current vehicles which is a nice way to add replay value, though it’s hampered by how slowly you accumulate compared to how expensive pretty much everything else is. Then again, the handling difference between planes isn’t really all that noticeable.

Finally, the game has a few small, but annoying polish problems. First of all, load times are a little on the long side, though that’s a small complaint. The biggest issue is how the game runs; 99.9 percent of the time it runs absolutely fine, but occasionally the game will seemingly pause for a second before suddenly restarting. This glitch is annoying in any form but can be exceptionally frustrating in the midst of the action. Another weird, though less significant issue, was a bug that would ultimately start the next campaign mission instead of taking me back to the level select screen. It’s far from game ruining, but it is awfully strange.

From beginning to end, Sky Gamblers: Afterburner feels like an ambitious project that just needed a little more time and a few more resources. The developers created some solid controls and pretty good looking environments, but then didn’t have the time or means to add the necessary bit of polish to bring everything together. Flying and fighting through the sky is fairly fun, but the lack of weapon variety and same-feeling planes deny the player the variety needed to keep them interested. Despite some good looking lighting and vistas, the fine details are lacking and the sound design really feels quite amateurish. Still, hopping into the offline death matches and objective modes does allow for some combat focused fun which is where the game shines. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t expect it to hold your attention for too long once you’ve filled your flying fix.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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