Originally released back in 1990 Rampart is a video game that I had a vague knowledge of but never had the opportunity to play. In the game you basically were in charge of keeping your own castles safe from an invading enemy force. To do this you would build a wall to protect your castle(s) as well as place cannons which you could use to destroy the invading ships. The game’s multiplayer mechanic had two players use competing castles to try and destroy the other player’s castle. While it might not be the most well known classic video game, Rampart is generally considered one of the forefathers of the tower defense genre. You may wonder why I am randomly bringing up a 30 year old video game? Well today I am looking at Sky Cannoneer a new indie game which bills itself as a spiritual successor to Rampart. Despite having no prior attachment to Rampart I was really curious about Sky Cannoneer as I am a big fan of the tower defense genre and it looked like a really interesting twist on your typical game from the genre. Sky Cannoneer strives to pay homage to a classic video game and succeeds for the most part by creating a unique tower defense experience that fans of the genre should really enjoy.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Element Games LLC for the review copy of Sky Cannoneer used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Sky Cannoneer you play as a Corsair in the Sky Lord’s fabled navy. Your world of Emoria was ravaged by a plague. This has lead to a large percentage of the population being forced to live on floating rocks in the sky after being saved by the Sky Lord. You and your team are in charge of a Battle Haven (basically a large floating piece of land) that is tasked with fighting back against a rebel faction. As you fight to keep your fellow citizens safe you begin to learn that things might not be exactly like they seem.
Sky Cannoneer was designed as an homage to Rampart and for the most part I think the game does a great job modernizing the mechanics from that game for the modern day. There are some slight tweaks to the gameplay but it still shares the main gameplay so fans of Rampart should feel right at home. For those of you who are not familiar with Rampart I would classify Sky Cannoneer as a tower defense game with a twist. The game is broken down into various missions. These missions have various objectives which include surviving a number of rounds or destroying the opponent’s power core. To accomplish this the gameplay is broken down into a couple stages.
Each round begins with the building stage. In the game you will have your own floating island which contains sections of walls, a power core, a number of forts and other upgrades. The key to this mechanic is keeping your power core safe. You do this by building and maintaining your power grid. You build your power grid by using walls to enclose the forts and territory on your own island. If you completely enclose an area with walls everything in that area is powered while also providing defense for your power core. This may seem easy but there is a catch. You won’t be building the wall one segment at a time. Instead you will be given random wall pieces, in shapes similar to Tetris pieces, that you will have to fit together in order to build the wall. If that wasn’t enough you have a limited amount of time to build so you have to build as quickly as possible to reinforce your current walls as well as expand to control more of your own island. This mechanic of the game is crucial as you need to keep your power grid secure so you can use your towers as well as protect your power core from being destroyed by your opponent.
After placing walls you will then have the opportunity to add cannons to your power grid. The number of cannons you get to add depends on the number of forts that you are currently powering. Each cannon you place allows you to shoot more projectiles at your opponent during the shooting phase. Therefore you would think that you would want to build as many cannons as possible, but that is not always the case. Once a cannon is built it cannot be destroyed. This comes into play as some of your wall pieces will be destroyed in the next phase. The more cannons you place the harder it will be to patch up your wall after parts of it are destroyed. In this phase you need to find the best places to add cannons so you can add more in the future without making it harder to repair the walls that get damaged.
The final phase in the game involves finally getting the opportunity to shoot at your opponent. You and your opponent have a limited amount of time to shoot your cannons trying to destroy each other’s walls and power cores. To shoot your cannons you just select the area you want to attack. Depending on the strength of the wall you can destroy it with just one shot or with several shots. As you progress through the game you will also unlock special abilities that you can use to deal additional damage. During this phase of the game you usually have two objectives. First you want to destroy your enemy’s walls. Destroying their walls forces them to rebuild them wasting their build time during the next round. If you destroy enough/the right wall pieces your opponent may not be able to fully patch the wall leaving them exposed. In this situation they won’t be able to shoot their cannons and their power core will be vulnerable. You can always shoot at your opponent’s power core but it usually won’t do much damage. If your opponent has none of their power grid up and running for the beginning of the battle phase though each projectile does considerably more damage to the power core. In this phase you need to balance between destroying your opponent’s walls and attacking their power core.
As a fan of tower defense games I have played quite a few different games from the genre. While Sky Cannoneer shares things in common with your typical tower defense game it also feels like its own game as well. Sky Cannoneer kind of feels like a combination of a tower defense game mixed with a puzzle game. The tower defense mechanics are pretty obvious as you build towers and shoot them in order to destroy the other player’s base. The more interesting mechanic is the building mechanic that reminds me of a puzzle game. While not exactly the same this mechanic reminded me a lot of games like Tetris. The game gives you little time to patch up any holes in your wall as well as expand your territory. This leads to you frantically trying to place pieces with random shapes where they will fill in gaps without overlapping things already placed on your island. I found this mechanic to be surprisingly satisfying.
Those of you who are not familiar with Rampart are probably just like me thinking this can’t be all that difficult. You just have to blow up all of your opponent’s walls and fill in a couple gaps here and there. For the first couple of levels this strategy will work. At this point I was enjoying the game but it felt like something was missing. After the introductory levels the game starts to change quite a bit. You might initially think that there isn’t much strategy to the game but you would be mistaken. There is a surprising amount of strategy to the game which will make it hard to make any progress if you don’t figure it out. If you just randomly place walls and choose targets to shoot you likely won’t be successful. When placing walls and cannons you need to place them in a way that when they are destroyed you will be able to easily replace them so you can keep your power grid up and running. When shooting how many wall pieces you destroy doesn’t matter. What pieces you destroy matter as you want to create holes in your opponent’s walls that will be hard to repair. It might not seem like it at first but there is quite a bit of strategy and skill to the game where you can’t just brute force your way to victory. This means that Sky Cannoneer takes some time to get used to but becomes quite satisfying once you get the strategy down.
Sky Cannoneer may seem easy at first but the game’s difficulty can change drastically from level to level. Some levels can be really easy while others can be quite difficult. I think this comes down to a couple things. Sky Cannoneer is for the most part a game of persistence. In most rounds you and your opponent are likely going to be able to patch up the damage to your power grids preventing you from doing much damage to each other’s power cores. Thus you need to just keep patching up and expanding your own base while blowing holes in your opponent’s walls. Eventually you will prevent them from completing their wall in time allowing you to shoot all of your cannons at their power core likely destroying it in one round. This usually will take some time though so you need to survive long enough that you can take advantage of it.
The difficulty is usually fair but there are occasional levels that feel unfair. These levels usually come down to your opponent being really stubborn. In these levels no matter what you do your opponent finds some way to fix their wall. This happens over and over again as you have to work hard just to keep your own wall in place. These levels can take many rounds that you need to survive through. At times it just feels like you have to get lucky in order for the computer to finally fail to complete their wall so you can destroy their power core. There are other levels where you have to defeat your opponent within a certain number of rounds. Sometimes this can be easy but when you hit one of the stubborn opponents it will be hard to defeat them quick enough. You will probably finish quite a few of the levels within your first couple of attempts. There will be the occasional level though that you will fail over and over again before you are finally successful. This becomes kind of frustrating after a while. In particular I am stuck on one of the later levels as it requires you to defeat the enemy in just a couple rounds and the only way you can do that is if your opponent’s power grid goes down for one or more rounds. To beat this level I feel that I will have to get lucky as the computer is just too good at patching up their wall.
As for the length I haven’t completed the game yet so I can’t give you a definitive length. So far I have played the game for around six hours. I would say at this point that I am through most of the levels unless the game is considerably longer than it seems. While playing the game I have encountered a couple missions that have taken some time to beat so if you can make it through these levels quite a bit quicker than I did it may take you a little less time. At this point the game only includes the single player campaign but the developers are planning on other modes after launch. Outside of beating all of the levels a decent amount of replay value will come from beating all of the challenges for each level. Each level has three different stars that you can acquire. You will get one just for beating the level. The other two stars come from completing the level under certain circumstances. These make the levels considerably harder so it will be a challenge to three star all of the levels. If you want to do this it should add quite a bit of time to the game.
Outside of the occasional frustrating level I had two other issues with the game.
While playing the game I encountered some performance issues. I would like to point out that for this review I used a preview build of the game. Based on the build I played though the game did not run as well as I was expecting. My computer is above all of the recommended settings for the game and yet there were times where the game’s framerate would drop quite a bit. This mostly occurred when there were a bunch of projectiles on the screen at the same time. This didn’t happen a lot and can be fixed by dropping some of the graphical settings. Therefore this is not a huge problem especially since it may already be fixed or will be fixed soon. I am mostly pointing it out because if your computer is on the lower side of the required computer specifications you may encounter more issues where the game won’t run as smoothly as you would like.
The other issue is more minor. For the most part I liked the game’s atmosphere. I thought the graphical style was pretty good and the game’s world is interesting. For some reason though I never really got into the story. I just felt the story was kind of generic. I haven’t completed the game yet so I don’t know how it will end, but so far I have found it to be pretty generic and predictable. This is not a huge deal as you don’t usually play tower defense games for their stories. If the story is really important to you though you likely will be disappointed.
Despite having never played Rampart, which Sky Cannoneer is inspired by, I was really intrigued to try out the game. I have always enjoyed tower defense games and Sky Cannoneer seemed like a really interesting twist on the formula. In action the game feels a lot like a tower defense game mixed with a puzzle game. You build towers in order to destroy your opponent’s walls and power core. The game also includes a building mechanic though that reminds me a lot of puzzle games like Tetris. You need to use random shapes in order to crate a continuous wall in order to keep yourself safe. This is a really interesting combination of mechanics which leads to a satisfying gameplay experience. It may seem simple at first but it is actually surprisingly deep requiring strategy over brute force. The game’s difficulty can vary at times with some levels becoming a little frustrating. The game also currently has some performance issues and the story is a little lackluster. Nonetheless Sky Cannoneer is a truly unique experience for the tower defense genre that I really enjoyed playing.
If you have never really cared for tower defense games or don’t like Sky Cannoneer’s concept it probably won’t be for you. People who like tower defense games though should really enjoy the game and should consider picking it up.
Buy Sky Cannoneer on Steam.