Developers Boss Baddie first took flight with 2009's Big Sky, a straightforward bullet hell space shooter. It featured colorful backgrounds, numerous enemies, and hulking boss fights. With their first release behind them, the team returns for the sequel, Really Big Sky. It's a true follow-up, one that expands on the original with new game modes and added replay value.
Like most games of this genre, story supplies a simple framework for the action. There are aliens flying towards your homeworld; they want your planet. So the object is to blast them into space dust. Players are given a ship and thrust into space to fight off the invading alien forces. And with that it cuts to the chase of picking up a controller and jumping into the action.
Really Big Sky is visually enticing, featuring colorful backgrounds and vibrant bursts filling the screen with every shot and explosion. The barrage of brightly-colored enemies and obstacles make this game a captivating experience. Each of my games consisted of my ship firing away with vibrant blues and watching enemies explode in lively orange and yellow hues. Special moves filled the screen with bursts of elegantly animated color.
The art design shows off a distinct style and helps set the game apart from its competition. It does, though, present some challenges when numerous enemies fill the screen. With so much going on, I found it a little too easy to be distracted from the action, leading to taking some errant hits. In particular, Nightmare mode occasionally became difficult to navigate with the screen nearly filled with the bright illumination coming from the ship, the enemies, and all of the simultaneous explosions. In the less intense game modes, this is less of a concern and I could just kick back and enjoy the show.
From a challenge standpoint, Really Big Sky starts off difficult for newer players. The beginning ship is fairly weak, its default weapon doesn't do much damage, and enemies can destroy it in a single shot. This can seem particularly harsh, considering the player is only given a single life. Blowing up once means having to start over, something I first found to be rough on a newer player like myself. After a few of these truncated game sessions, less patient players would normally walk away. Instead, this is the point where Really Big Sky's extraordinary replay value kicks in. Players that are willing to take a few lumps during their first couple of playthroughs, will find their advancement that much more rewarding.
Player scores, in addition to being used for online leaderboards, are converted into currency that can be spent on upgrades. So gradually playing through the game will allow players the opportunity to upgrade their ships. Improvements such as heavier armor, more powerful weapons, and special moves then lead to a better chance to make it further in the game. This is the first time I can recall high scores being used effectively as an incentive for something other than an online leaderboard.
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Levels are randomly generated, largely eliminating the feeling of repetition and further adding to game's replay value. It also meant that pattern memorization was useless, definitely making it more challenging. Getting through these dynamic levels depended more on my skills and reflexes than simple memorization of a level's layout or knowing where an enemy would come from next.
The biggest addition to Really Big Sky is the introduction of several new game modes. Some feel too similar to each other, like the Classic, Arcade, and Marathon modes, but others offer a different way to play the game. Pacifism, in particular, struck me, because of its different set of objectives. As the name implies, Pacifism is about surviving without the use of weapons. This meant a total change in strategy. Since the option to shoot my way through an armada was off the table, completing levels meant I was left solely reliant on my flight skills and reflexes. It was a completely different feeling than the game's Classic and Arcade modes and was fun in its own unique way.
Really Big Sky fully embraces the spirit of space-based bullet hell with its numerous enemies, large bosses, unlockable game modes, and four-player co-op. Anyone who loves old-school arcade space shooters like Gradius and R-Type will enjoy this love letter to the genre.