Hands-On: Shooty Skies Overdrive Flies High With Bullet Hell VR Fun

Shooty Skies Overdrive is a new shoot ’em up title coming to Oculus Quest and Rift next month. We went to go hands-on with the title and put together some first impressions and gameplay footage ahead of the game’s release.

Shooty Skies Overdrive is a new collaboration between Crossy Road co-creator Matt Hall and Melbourne-based studio Mighty Games, taking heavy inspiration from the style and aesthetic of their previous mobile games like Crossy Road and the original non-VR Shooty Skies. Going into the game, I expected something akin in depth to those mobile experiences, however I was pleasantly surprised.

While the same boxy, retro pixel-art aesthetic does carry over into Overdrive, the move to VR creates an experience much more rewarding than any of the studio’s previous mobile titles. I only played early parts of the campaign for a short period of time, but in my limited playtime I still found some awesome environments, significant challenge and potential replayability. In some ways, Shooty Skies Overdrive feels very familiar and yet also quite fresh in concept at the same time.

The basic premise is that you control a bullet-shooting plane in your right hand (initially piloted by a cute cat, but you’ll quickly unlock other avatars) in a roomscale environment.  You have to simultaneously shoot enemies as they fly around you, while also moving your plane (or, you right hand) around to dodge incoming projectiles and bullets. In your left hand, you’ll be able to use various wacky powerups, like a bullet-sucking vacuum or a deadly yo-yo, as they come your way.

It’s a straightforward concept, but one that is executed surprisingly well. If the gameplay footage below doesn’t look all that exciting, I can assure it’s much better in VR — simultaneously firing and dodging projectiles in a 3D environment is great fun, but doesn’t necessarily translate well to 2D video footage.

On higher difficulties, the game quickly becomes a bullet hell-style game. It almost reminded me of games like The Binding of Issac or Enter The Gungeon, except more casual and also more physical, given the concept is being executed in roomscale VR. You’ll be frantically dodging in all directions, moving your hand in twisted ways to avoid your plane being hit. It’s a bit jarring at first, because you feel a desire to move your whole body (and head) out of the way — realistically though, the bullets don’t do anything unless they hit the plane in your right hand. It takes a bit of adjusting to, but once you get familiar, everything starts to click.

The game has three difficulties, the hardest of which is titular —  Overdrive. I went straight into the campaign on that difficulty and immediately struggled to clear the level.  However, what struck me was how the game rarely felt frustrating or unfair, even when diving in head first on the highest difficult. The game is an easy to understand concept that you have to master — every time I died, I knew it was my fault and mine alone. I didn’t ever feel cheated, just maybe a bit inexperienced. This might seem like an obvious concept, but it’s one that I find games often struggle to land properly.

At it’s core, Shooty Skies essentially boils down to ‘shoot enemies, don’t get hit’. It’s that simple to explain, but is harder to execute in practice. While the developers do also say that you can play sitting down on easier difficulties if you want, this definitely feel like a quintessentially roomscale experience. You’ll want to be able to quickly move around without fear of damaging anything or running out of space.

Gameplay aside, the aesthetic and visuals look quite striking — the boxy retro style feels more at home in VR and less kitsch than it does on mobile. The performance on Quest was also rock solid from what I played — impressive given the sheer amount of bullets and objects that were present at any time. While I’ll have to reserve judgement until I play more, so far Shooty Skies Overdrive feels much more polished, nuanced and challenging than I was expecting.

The game will be available on the  Oculus Store for Quest and Rift from July 2nd. For non-Oculus PC VR users, you’ll have to wait a bit longer — Shooty Skies Overdrive won’t hit Steam for PC VR until over a month later, on August 7.

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