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Video Game / Captain Skyhawk

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Don't get used to seeing that face.

Captain Skyhawk is an NES game released in the United States in June 1990. The game was developed by Rare and published by Milton Bradley Company.

The game has the player take the role of the titular Captain Skyhawk, a fighter pilot who must defend the Earth from a race of aliens that is draining its energy to fuel a giant alien space station which will then destroy the planet with a giant laser. The player is charged with destroying the four alien land bases, dropping supplies to allies and rescuing Earth’s scientists before destroying the alien mothership.

The game itself alternates between top-down shoot ‘em up segments and behind-the-back scenes ala After Burner. The player gets to change the altitude of their fighter jet in both the top down and behind-the-back scenes. The player can also purchase a faster firing cannon and limited supplies of missiles between missions at a friendly Space Station.


The game is an average title in the NES library and never earned much notoriety or fame apart from having good graphics at the time with the terrain in the top-down missions being shown at an isometric angle and hit boxes that suggest a 3D environment. Long time Rare composer David Wise provided the music.

Captain Skyhawk contains examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: The titular Captain Skyhawk.
  • Action Commands: The player must approach the Space Station with a well-timed button press or die.
  • Airborne Mook: Many of the player's enemies during the main missions are flying or hovering drones. During the behind-the-back sections the player will destroy scores of enemy fighter jets.
  • Always Over the Shoulder: The interludes after main missions take this perspective while shooting down enemy planes.
  • Amazing Technicolor Battlefield: The final boss is fought in space with stars streaking by. It is the only time this effect is used in the game.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • Getting killed during an enemy base fight will respawn the player at the entrance to the boss and any damage the boss suffered will persist between lives.
    • In levels 3 and 7, you move forward much faster, giving you a lot less time to react to enemies and obstacles, but after you die just once you'll move at normal speed again, making those levels a lot easier to manage.
  • A.K.A.-47: The jet sprite is modeled after the F-14 but it is called the F-14VTS in-game.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The bosses are only vulnerable at specific nodes in their geometry.
  • Beating A Dead Player: Enemy bases will continue shooting at your exploded jet even after it disappears.
  • Boss Corridor: The enemy bases have an empty path leading up to them that triggers the boss music.
  • Boss-Only Level: The entire final stage is devoted to destroying the alien mothership. It is a pretty short battle, though.
  • Cap: The player is limited to carrying 99 credits.
  • Checkpoint: Each stage has one or two check points including one right before each boss.
  • Cores-and-Turrets Boss: All of the land bases have cores that must be destroyed which double as turrets that fire at the player.
  • Context-Sensitive Button: The B button is used to fire different kinds of missiles depending on the input and is also used to enter the Space Station.
  • Cut-and-Paste Environments: As standard of NES games, the design of each of the first four levels get repeated four levels later, just with the background colored differently, and besides the water levels they're not really that distinct from each other to begin with.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The aliens' plan.
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: The invasion can be stopped by destroying the alien Space Station.
  • Elite Mook: The rival fighter jet in levels 3 and 7. They take many hits to destroy and will always fly in front of the player. If it is destroyed another takes its place immediately.
  • Equipment Upgrade: The Vulcan cannon of the jet can be upgraded to increase its rate of fire.
  • Extra Life: The player can earn more lives by destroying a certain amount of enemies in a single level. They are guaranteed to get an extra life when they defeat the Final Boss.
  • Featureless Protagonist: Other than a generic picture of a person in a flight helmet and mask Captain Skyhawk receives no description or dialog.
  • Fixed Camera: The top-down sections have their graphics arranged isometrically but scroll completely vertically. The behind-the-back sections allow the player to navigate within one screen’s worth of space but the camera does not scroll or move.
  • Final Boss: The entire game is based around destroying the aliens' ground operations and constructing the weapon to destroy the alien mothership...
  • Final Boss, New Dimension: ...IN SPACE!
  • Fragile Speedster: Especially in levels 3 and 7 where the player shoots through the levels at blazing speeds.
  • Go for the Eye: The last spot to be destroyed on the enemy mothership is a giant eye that follows the player's movements.
  • In Case of Boss Fight, Break Glass: The final part of all of the terrestrial alien bases are glass or energy based cores.
  • Item-Drop Mechanic: Defeating a related group of enemies will award the player with a credit.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The F-14 doesn’t have vertical take-off and landing capabilities and while the player’s jet normally takes off from a runway, it routinely stops to hover and strafe at bosses. It is also not outer space capable.
  • Mook: Enemies that are destroyed in one hit appear by the dozen.
  • No Hero Discount: The player must collect credits to resupply their plane between missions. This is particularly strange since the player is presumably being resupplied by their own military!
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: The fighter jet will explode upon a single collision, bullet or missile.
  • One-Man Army: The player the only fighter who will save the world.
  • Protagonist Title: And he's the only named character, to boot.
  • Recurring Boss: All of the odd-numbered level bosses play exactly the same to each other. The bosses of levels 4 and 8 are identical to each other.
  • Saving the World: The player's goal.
  • Scoring Points: The player can put their name on the high score list!
  • Scrappy Mechanic: The space station boarding sections inbetween levels. They don't really add anything gameplay-wise, as all they entail is pressing a button once at the right time in the middle of the screen, and so only serve to needlessly waste your limited lives as trying to board at the wrong position or with your timing a bit off will kill you.
  • Shielded Core Boss: In spite of being visible during the entire fights, the enemy bases' cores are not vulnerable until several auxiliary nodes are destroyed first.
  • Sea Mine: Frustrating enemies in levels 4 and 8.
  • Space Plane: Captain Skyhawk's jet, the player character, is a Cool Plane IN SPACE! It travels between ground level and Earth orbit throughout the game, and fights in space for the final mission.
  • Stationary Boss: None of the bosses can move since they are all ground bases. Notably it is the player that must stop moving to destroy the bases in a plane that normally has no hover functionality.
  • Strictly Formula: Each mission has top-down, behind-the-back and space station docking segments, always in that order.
  • Top-Down View: This is what the main game plays in with isometric graphics representing the terrain to give the game a more 3D feel.
  • Vehicular Assault: The aliens are never seen in the game. Instead the player must destroy armies of cars, tanks, boats and rival fighter jets.
  • Video-Game Lives: The player has a limited number of planes to complete their mission. More can be earned, however.
  • A Winner Is You: “Mission Complete Alien Invasion Fleet Destroyed” Game Over.
  • Wraparound Background: All of the levels loop but they generally end before it is noticed. The main exceptions are the "supply" levels which will loop indefinitely until the player successfully delivers to both supply drops.

Nice shooting, Captain.