Hammer Labs' Super Sky Arena couldn't be emerging at a better time—just a month before Star Fox Zero.
For an indie that relies so much on Star Fox 64 nostalgia, though, this close proximity could be considered detrimental—why go for the spiritual successor when you could just play the real deal? But Super Sky Arena is providing one piece of the puzzle Star Fox Zero will be missing: a multiplayer mode. Granted, SSA draws more from the Nintendo 64 installment of Star Fox than any entry from the 21st century, but if you're looking for a way to replicate the competitive action of 1998 without squinting into a tiny, fuzzy window, Hammer Labs is here to help.
At first glance, Super Sky Arena has the makings of a relatively simple experience. If you've played the multiplayer mode of Star Fox 64, it's essentially that, but with small planetoid maps rather than the flat expanses of virtually nothing from the N64 game. Coming nearly 20 years after their inspiration—and with much more powerful hardware to work with—Super Sky Arena feels like the logical conclusion to the multiplayer mode Nintendo crafted so long ago. Along with the spherical arenas, full of nooks and crannies packed with power-ups, SSA provides a much greater degree of control over your ship: Instead of forever moving forward—like in Star Fox—the skycraft here can slow down, and even come close to stopping, if necessary. And turning your ship around doesn't just play out a canned animation. In Super Sky Arena, you can actually use the boost needed to pull this move off to ram enemies—a devastating attack if you can get your timing right.
While the cast of furry characters only different in appearance, Super Sky Arena is shooting for a Smash Bros. level of customization with its matches. Its character select screen, for instance, looks very much like the one found in Nintendo's famous fighter, and offers the chance to remove certain weapons/items from matches, and to set the overall objective: points, lives or time (which can be fine-tuned as well). Outside of deathmatches, an additional mode, simple titled "Hustle," gives each player a flag, and 30 total seconds to be flag-free. Instead of "capture the flag," this mode plays out more like "hold onto the flag for dear life," since every second you're without it subtracts from that vital half-minute. And while you can't capture the enemy's flag, you can kick it around the map once they drop it—which could lead to some great trolling opportunities for skilled players.
I only had a few chances to fly Super Sky Arena's unfriendly skies, but it didn't take me long to acclimate to its deviations from the Star Fox formula. Strangely enough, there's a bit of Mario kart worked into Hammer Labs' Nintendo smoothie, as well: special weapons are sprinkled around the map in the form of those iconic question mark blocks, so you're never quite sure what power-up you'll have to deal with next. While the bots—tuned for the developers and not necessarily new players—schooled me easily, I was genuinely surprised how quickly Super Sky Arena's fast-paced battles clicked with me. If SSA can find a strong community, I can easily see Hammer Labs picking up the same casual competitors as the brilliantly simple Rocket League.
If you'd like to check out Super Sky Arena for yourself, the Early Access version is currently available on Steam for $14.99. While the experience available now doesn't exactly feel unpolished, Hammer Labs is shooting for an official Summer release on both PC and consoles, with more content than what's available in its Early Access form. Even if Star Fox Zero doesn't disappoint, Super Sky Arena will be there to provide the multiplayer action Nintendo decided to forego this time around.