Game: Big Sky Infinity
Developer: Boss Baddie
Available on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
Big Sky Infinity is a tricky one to tame. For a start it’s part twin-stick shooter, part R-Type clone. Then you take into account its old-school shooter roots, but its procedurally-generated levels. Then you try to pinpoint an art-style, and find that its visuals are in a constant state of flux, as though someone sat and twiddled with the special effects sliders all the way through development and left it all in the game. The resultant cocktail is an oddly-tasting concoction that will trickle onto the tongue like sweet honey for some, while for others it’ll be like chugging week-old milk.
You’ll begin the game in the tutorial mode, where all you’re required to do is shoot stuff without any fear of death. You’ll be blasting little orange ships that look as though they came straight from Space Invaders, weird green blobs, enemies that look like little tribal tattoos and occasional nondescript yet enormous ships so big only their burners fit on the screen. The tutorial will teach you about Starbits, little glowing fragments that you collect by flying through. They act as currency in the between-level shop and should be collected whenever you see them, as they allow you to purchase upgrades and one-use buffs for the next level.
After the tutorial you can go straight into Classic mode, wherein you’ll play the game as it’s intended – and it’s intended to be bloody hard. Half bullet-hell and half obstacle course, Big Sky Infinity isn’t shy about the volume of debris it throws at you, from enemies to asteroids to, bizarrely, dinosaur skulls. On certain levels, even the environment will blow you up. Now and then you’ll get an Incoming Planet warning, at which point an actual planet will suddenly appear and swallow the screen. Tapping X or R will activate your drill, allowing you to grind your way through, activating power-up markers along the way. As if that all wasn’t tough enough, the screen effects and art-style are constantly changing, cycling willy-nilly through psychedelic patterns and silhouettes to further confuse and disorientate.
The persistent morphing of the environments and backgrounds is actually more of a hindrance than anything else – it becomes especially hard to differentiate between an opponent and a piece of random scenery, and quite often it’s almost impossible to dodge the constant stream of bullets because the background colour has changed and swallowed them up. It’s a silly issue that should really have been picked up before the game launched. That being said, such is the random nature of the enemies, attacks and backgrounds that you could potentially play ten or twelve levels in a row without it becoming an issue.
However, the most immediate and persistent problem with Big Sky Infinity isn’t the difficulty spiking or the dizziness-inducing colour-morphing, it’s the awful voice over. A horribly dull, obnoxious British instructor will give occasional guidance interspersed with looped sarcasm that begins to grate in a scary way after the second time. Sometimes it won’t even loop and will spit out the same line three or four times in a row. It’s rage-inducing in the extreme, though luckily there is an option to turn it off.
You’ll more than likely play Big Sky Infinity in bite-sized chunks, and despite the onus it places on leaderboards you’ll mostly play against yourself. This is because leaderboards and randomly-generated levels just don’t mix well. I’ve played levels where the mix of enemies and obstacles made it incredibly easy, and other levels where I was dead within seconds. Challenging your own score somehow seems more satisfying because the undulating difficulty renders the Horse mode (in which you can send messages to other players challenging them to beat your scores in a certain number of turns) a little bit uneven; though playing asynchronously with another gamer and repeatedly trying to out-do one another does have its merits.
Thankfully, there are a host of other modes to get stuck into. For example, Countdown challenges you to score as much as you can in two minutes, Exhibition cycles through all the game modes, selecting a new one each time you die and Peaceful gives you infinite lives and a lower difficulty so you can play for as long as you like. One favourite is Pacifist, which makes your guns shoot pretty flowers instead of lasers. Variety is at the forefront of Boss Baddie’s design ethic and, as such, it’s hard to get bored with Big Sky Infinity if you play it in small doses, making it far better suited to the Vita than the PS3.
VERDICT: In a genre that’s all about score-chasing, randomly-generated levels seem a little out of place, but at the same time Boss Baddie deserve credit for taking risks within an established template. There’s a great sense of humour present throughout (despite that horrendous voice over), and there’s a lot of fun to be had experimenting with the various modes.
Not built for pure competition like, say, Super Stardust Delta, Big Sky Infinity is actually one of the few games of its kind that seems to make more sense as a single-player experience (although there is fun to be had playing multiplayer and using old-school one-turn-each rules). Odd design decisions and the most irritating voice-over actor ever get in the way of this being a true hit, but there’s enough charm and creativity in Big Sky Infinity to all but guarantee its future cult status.