Space is vast and unexplored, and we look to the stars for the answers to questions we cannot comprehend. If Really Big Sky by Boss Baddie had its way, the stars would consist of a gigantic seizure warning. Welcome to the best twin stick shooter since Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved.
30 seconds. That’s about how long my first play experience with Really Big Sky was. As my ship rammed head first into a meteor, I wondered what exactly I had done wrong. Had I not dodged the bullets quickly enough? Maybe it was the hordes of color coded enemies that had flown by the screen firing said bullets. As the game over screen teased me into playing another round (“The night was young…” for retry, “…but I was too tired to go on.” for no.), I realized what had happened. I blinked.
Really Big Sky is a twin-stick twitch based shooter that reminds me of classic arcade shooters like Raiden, but the closest home experience is Geometry Wars Evolved. To put it bluntly, you’re going to die a lot. Your first ten play sessions probably won’t even break the ten second mark. However, if you power through it and don’t give up, you’ll find an incredibly varied and fun shooter that pays homage to some of the best of the genre. Even if you’ve given up on these kinds of shooters, there’s no better place than Really Big Sky to start again.
To play Really Big Sky, you need to have a controller. I personally use an Xbox 360 controller, which Really Big Sky auto maps for use with the game. It even changes the buttons on screen to mimic 360 controls. Without a controller, you’ll be stuck with a mouse and keyboard setup, which is functional but suboptimal. Trust me – the small investment for one of these controllers is worth it.
If you haven’t played any shooters like this, then a quick crash course is in order. This game requires amazing reflexes if you want to survive to the later levels, which are sadistic. There will be meteors flying by and bullets swarming in complex patterns attempting to rip your ship in two. All the while, you’ll have the ability to shoot in every direction, riddling each enemy you encounter with bullet holes. Really Big Sky’s twist on the genre is that the back of the ship contains a drill that can be deployed at any time. This is used to burrow through planets and meteors that come at you. However, while the drill is out, no weapons can be used.
What keeps these encounters fresh is the length of the play sessions, which usually never amount to more than two minutes, unless you’re playing on one of the easier modes, like Peaceful, which gives you infinite lives. Each new level is procedurally generated: every time you load up the game, it is an entirely new experience. Once you reach the end of a level, you enter a wormhole, which acts as a transition to the next generated stage. There are twelve different modes to choose from, each sporting wildly different play styles and difficulties.
Classic is your standard game mode, with experience to collect and abilities to upgrade. You can deploy mines, shoot wider and more powerfully and move about more nimbly, to just name a few. Retro mode allows you to go through the different eras of top down shooters, each with a different visual style and musical composition. Going through all these different zones leaves a nostalgic feel, harkening back to the Arcade and SNES eras. Pacifism turns the guns off, making maneuverability a necessity, as you attempt to survive for as long as possible. This is the most distinct of the modes, requiring an entirely new play style. The most fun and varied mode is Remix, which takes you through all the different modes, spending about a minute in each, with the next one selected randomly. This mode is completely engrossing, launching a full assault on your eyes and reflexes.
The graphics in Really Big Sky are gorgeous, with explosions gracing the screen every second, bullets arcing in elaborate patterns. Occasionally there are frame rate drops, but often these just make gameplay easier. There are also shifts in the game that cause gameplay to slowdown or speed up, which cause the colors to go inverse, and sometimes cause the screen to blur. Often slowing down gameplay comes at the cost of visual clarity, which is generally a fair trade. The music also fantastic, with a great techno mix that shifts and responds to the mode and what is happening on screen.
Really Big Sky is an absolutely fantastic game that brings procedurally generated game play to top down shooters. It has twelve different modes, striking visuals and a great new twist on the classic twin stick gameplay. Really Big Sky has everything you could want in a twin stick shooter. Whether a fan of the genre or a total newcomer, you owe to yourself to try what is one of the prettiest and most engaging shooters currently on the market.
Really Big Sky is on sale for $2.50 on Steam through June 1st.