Today I’m reviewing Bandit Skies, an indie outing by TD Programming that touts itself as an easy to pick up shoot-em-up with RPG elements. I played the Windows version of this game, which is also available for Mac OSX, iOS, Android, Ouya, and as an in-browser experience with the Unity plugin. It’s a very simple game – almost confusingly so at first – but does a fair job of delivering what’s advertised in the short description.
When you fire up the game, you’re presented with choices of three zones: Forest, City, and Ocean. Entering one of these opens a splash screen with options to Fly Mission, Shop, Talk, review Quests/Inventory, Leave, or adjust game options. I dove in headfirst to the first mission in the Forest zone, and started blasting away. It’s a straightforward top-down flying shooter in the spirit of Aero Fighters and its ilk; a genre I happen to have enjoyed since my youth, so that’s a plus. Some of it borders on the “bullet hell” type of this game, but your ship’s health is pretty robust — so much so that it was barely a concern while I was playing, especially after purchasing health upgrades later on. Enemies fire a mix of small blue bullets and larger red ones. When an enemy is destroyed, it may drop a weapon upgrade, health pack, or quest item in addition to coins used for purchasing upgrades. Especially interesting is that any of the smaller bullets from that enemy still on the screen will also turn into coins when it’s destroyed.
Your ship is constantly shooting, probably a holdover from the mobile nature of the game’s original development, which would limit control options more than the PC. You can power up your weapons in pretty standard ways, going from a single line of bullets out to a spread-shot of four projectiles, with each upgrade adding one until you reach the limit. Items collected vary by Zone, as well as by each of the five individual Missions within each zone, unlocked by completing the prior mission. These items can be sold at the shop for a pittance, but serve the primary purpose of being turned in for quest completion.
From any zone’s ‘Talk’ screen, you can approach two or three NPCs which offer some minimal story framing and hand out quests for specific items – either those collected within missions or given as rewards for completing a preceding quest. The art style here is pretty basic but certainly not terrible, though the dialogue is pretty simplistic. It’s mentioned that you’re a mercenary pilot who fights off the bandits plaguing the world, and you’re nominally doing this for both money and to help free the world from the cruel clutches of the titular bandits. Some additional bits of information do build up some kind of world in which you’re doing this, but your responses to dialogue are limited and mostly irrelevant unless you decide to turn a quest down for some reason.
Aside from a different backdrop, enemy sprites, and loot items, each mission is roughly the same drill – fight a horde of enemies, collect items and power-ups, and make your way to a boss battle against one of three large opponents, one for each zone. The higher the mission level, the more hits this boss can take, but it’s otherwise indistinguishable from the fight ending any other mission within the zone. Between missions, you’ll talk to people to pick up quests, check which items you’ve collected for the quests you have, or shop for upgrades to your weapons, health, or cash. The cash upgrades might be the most interesting, causing you to collect more money for each coin you pick up along the way.
I found that both coins and weapon upgrades collected during play lost value pretty quickly. After purchasing the upgrades from the shop, there’s nothing to do with leftover funds and little reason to collect then-meaningless power-ups in the missions, though the quest loot and health boosts still serve a purpose. Health, again, was not a concern for the most part; I didn’t suffer a single loss of life in my playthrough, even when I gave up entirely on trying to weave through enemy fire except during boss battles. It was more than enough to simply turn what I could into coins and dive headlong after the dropped health to ensure I made it safely through each level.
Each zone is backed with relatively generic electronic music and littered with simple graphics that leave quite a bit to be desired, though the backgrounds are at least somewhat interesting at first; it would be nice to see some more variety in those, as well. With due recognizance of the game’s mobile-device origins, the repetition didn’t bother me much. Finishing the game was quick and a bit anticlimactic, but it hints at more to come in a sequel game, which could be interesting with some more funding behind it. All told, Bandit Skies delivers some quick, easy fun that matches the promise given when you step up to it, and it’s easily worth the low app-store cost asked for.
[+Some story in RPG style NPCs] [+Easy to pick up and play] [+Quests give purpose to each Zone and Mission] [-Uninspired music] [-Extremely simplistic in-game graphics] [-Repetitive play in each Zone]