Games Like 'Sky Rogue' Let Me Indulge in My Arcade Nostalgia


#1

Open Thread is where Waypoint staff talk about games and other things we find interesting. This is where you'll see us chat about games, music, movies, TV, and even sports, and welcome you to participate in the discussion.

Last Friday, thanks to some runway traffic and a technical problem, I spent an hour sitting in a plane waiting for takeoff. But I didn't even notice, because I spent that time doing loops and barrel rolls through the bright blue heavens of Sky Rogue, which released on Switch late last month and has been available on PC in various forms for the last few years.

I spoke about the game briefly at the end of Monday's Waypoint Radio, but briefly: Sky Rogue is an arcade-y flight sim roguelite that feels like a blend of the Ace Combat series and Sega's arcade output in the mid 90s, and I don't just mean that it reminds me of Sega's Wing War in terms of lighting, visual design, and music (but you know, that too).

You can check at the trailer above to get a sense of the vibe, which is important, because like a lot of old arcade games, Sky Rogue hangs a lot on "vibe." The game's structure is fairly simple: You launch from a SHIELD Carrier-style skybase, get assigned a target (land, sea, or air), take on its escorts, and then blow it up. Maybe you stick around to do some more damage and wrack up more points that you can use to unlock new equipment, but that's basically it. And that's not a criticism! Sky Rogue is about this one loop, and even as it gives you new jets to use, new weapons to choose from, and harder foes to take down, it never veers too far from this very simple setup.

That sort of design focus was at the heart of so many arcade games I loved, and that isn't a coincidence. It's easy to reductively summarize arcades as simply places where you once paid to play games, but that misses so much about "the arcade" as a very unique sort of gaming platform, with its own constraints and biases.

Above: Wing War, Sega' s 1994 arcade combat flight sim.

Arcade games were driven by the need to drag quarters out of players. In a sea of bright screens and loud sounds, they were forced to be eye-catching and distinctive, yet also easily understood. And restricted for years by the inability to save progress, arcade games needed to make every session its own reward. These and other factors meant that compared to the growing depth of home PC and console gaming, arcade games had a general character of slimness in design, clarity in direction, and boldness in aesthetic.

But once arcades left my life, the bulk of the games I played (and loved) were the ones that explored the breadth and occasional messiness encouraged by console and PC games. Deep skill trees. Slowly unfolding narratives. Complexity in controls and obscurity in mechanics. It's not that there weren't still "arcade-style games"—I love Geometry Wars too—but it felt like the games that made a big impact in our subculture were those that embraced the bigness of the format.

But playing Sky Rogue on that tarmac reminded me that the sort of tight, focused design I loved about arcade games is still totally around, it just shifted into a subcategory of independent games. For indies, the economic metaphor even holds to some degree: Platforms like itch.io and Steam are jammed with bright, loud games and it takes a lot of boldness and clarity to stand out. Even in just the last few weeks, games like Slipstream and Wizard of Legend feel like throwbacks in both art and game feel. Even games that don't have the retro look can fit this mold: It's so easy for me to imagine someone playing Beat Saber in a Dave and Busters, or to have people crowding around a Laser League machine in my local Tilt arcade.

So here's my Open Thread question today: What is your favorite indie game that evokes a classic arcade experience? And if you want extra credit: What's the arcade game you wish would make a return? Let me know over on the forums!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/a3aeq4/games-like-sky-rogue-let-me-indulge-in-my-arcade-nostalgia

#2

I think that arcade nostalgia is a big thing that draws me to rogue-like games. I definitely prefer ones where runs are generally short, and starting a new one evokes the same feeling of challenge I got when I’d walk up to a Metal Slug cabinet with only two quarters. Crypt of the Necrodancer, Steredenn, and 20XX are some of my current favorites. I think I’ll have to give Sky Rogue a look.

Hey, why hasn’t anyone made a rogue-like Crazy Taxi, yet?

I don’t play many 3-4 player cooperative games anymore, but when I played Assault Android Cactus with a few friends I was reminded of the fun of crowding around an arcade machine playing TMNT or Gauntlet Legends (not quite old enough for the original). Most modern local co-op games have lots of RPG mechanics that can be intimidating, but AAC has a fun simplicity to it without feeling shallow. The battery mechanic that makes every level a sort of Time Attack mode and the swarms of bullets and enemies on screen also add a lot to making it feel like an arcade game.


#3

I grabbed Sky Rogue on PC a year or so ago after it had been in my wishlist for months before that, based solely on that arcade aesthetic. It’s so good.

But the other things about it is that the missles have a touch of that Itano Circus that I love from Macross/Robotech! And so while they are extremely different games, I really must recommend at some point anyone who is interested in this put themselves in the cockpit of a VF-22 and play a few missions of Macross VF-X2 for the PS1.


#4

Yeah for me Sky Rogue is actually that game, I don’t know how long I’ve owned it (maybe 2014 from itch.io?) but I’ve been pushing it to anyone who will listen and I’ve been so happy to see it go to Steam and now to Switch, to general praise. Naturally seeing someone like you/Waypoint agree is gratifying, and only serves to keep us looking out for more great stuff on indie platforms!

About Sky Rogue itself, it’s a game whose loop I feel I can lose myself in so easily, and one that really encourages mixing things up - any time you swap out planes and loadouts, there’s a thrill of wondering how this will change your ideal targets, engagement distance, and general survivability. It’s so satisfying. Add that to the tight controls - seriously, go for those scary low-altitude attacks, it’s great - and you’ve got something really special that, crucially, you can still play in <10 minute increments if you want.

I tend to lose two or three hours a time, but I could do 10 minute chunks. It definitely is possible.


#5

<3 Sky Rogue. Bought it twice, one on Switch and one through itch.io.

I just unlocked the heavy fighter (Dracon, I think?) and it is so nice to have the extra space to equip high-cost missiles. Since I am so far playing the game with the intention to clear each level, I have settled on always having rockets. The rockets seem to be the most efficient in hitting ground targets, especially when leveled up.

I should try to just beeline toward the objectives and move on. I have only seen the desert tile set a few times in the runs I’ve done.


#6

Downwell struck that balance of simple and challenging that reallyou starched that arcade itch for me.


#7

Thanks to this article I downloaded Sky Rogue and have been having a blast. I haven’t actually turned my switch on in a couple of months due to life stuff and now there are like a million awesome games on there. Love it.


#8

I feel like itch.io is sort of the new place for arcade style games, for a lot of the reasons listed above and how those reasons make arcadey score attack games ideal starting points for new and amateur developers.

I just had a very nostalgic arcade experience with an itch.io game called GOAT. It’s a fun game, but the main reason I sunk three hours into it has a leaderboard with ten spots and some asshole got a high score and listed their name as a slur. I knew this jerk needed to be taken down, so I kept going until I could get on the leaderboard 5 times, enough to knock his name off completely. That feeling of knocking names off the high score list is so satisfying and a core part of the arcade experience for me. If the people you’re knocking off are awful, even better.


#9

Yeah, modern takes on old style arcade is definitely a favorite genre of mine.

I love the look and feel of this shooter called Furious Angels. It’s got a Sinistar feel to it and I’m sure I’m neglecting about 100 other games like it.

On the rogue like end of the spectrum, I really like what Puppygames did with Basingstoke. Zombies, a clean visual style, tight gameplay and british humor for the win.