Japanese arcade flyer
Parker Brothers (Atari 2600)
|Platform(s)||Arcade, Atari 2600|
|Mode(s)||1-2 players, alternating|
|Cabinet||Upright, Cabaret, Cocktail|
|CPU||Z80 @ 4 MHz|
|Sound||AY-3-8910A @ 2 MHz|
|Display||Raster (Horizontal) standard resolution (Used: 512×448)|
Sky Skipper is a 1981 arcade game by Nintendo. In the game, the player pilots a biplane and must save animals and a royal family from gorillas holding them captured. This is done by dropping bombs on the gorillas to knock them out and unlock the cages, then diving down towards the cages to pick up the freed characters before the gorillas lock the cages again. An Atari 2600 port was released in 1983.
The game was poorly received in arcades, leading Nintendo to convert the cabinets into Popeye machines. Nintendo of America stored one cabinet in its archives which years later remains as the only known Sky Skipper cabinet in the world. The cabinet was scanned and photographed by arcade enthusiasts in 2016, who also sourced one of four known remaining Sky Skipper arcade boards to build a faithful cabinet restoration. The board from the Nintendo of America cabinet is the only known unmodified boardset of the game. Nintendo copied the ROM image from this board and released it on the Nintendo Switch eShop on July 20, 2018.
In Sky Skipper, the player pilots a biplane through scrolling mazes to save animals caged by enemy gorillas. The player must drop bombs onto the gorillas which will temporarily knock them out and unlock the cages. Then, the player must swoop down to pick up the animals before the gorillas get up and lock the cages again. Flying into a gorilla or wall will result in the loss of one life. The plane also runs on fuel which is measured by a fuel gauge on the screen. Fuel can be replenished by picking up the animals. After the first stage is completed, the game continues up to a fourth stage, after which the four stages are repeated on increased difficulty.
Development and release
Sky Skipper was developed by Nintendo and released in Japan in 1981 as a follow up to their highly successful Donkey Kong, which was released earlier that same year. It was designed by Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto with assistance from Ikegami Tsushinki. The cabinets were produced in upright, cabaret, and cocktail variations with cabinet artwork done by Miyamoto. The game tested poorly in Japan and was not widely released. Around a dozen cabinets were sent to Nintendo of America in Seattle for location tests. but the game was also poorly received and as a result was never widely released. Nintendo's Howard Philips called Sky Skipper a "confusing thematic mess". Because of the poor reception Nintendo decided to convert the Sky Skipper cabinets into Popeye cabinets, released in 1982. One of the ten North American cabinets escaped this fate and was stored away at Nintendo of America.
Although the game was never widely released in North America, Parker Brothers negotiated for a license to publish a home version of the game for the Atari 2600 as part of its licensing deal for Popeye. The port was naturally of lower production value than the arcade version. Atari HQ found the port to be average, with simple gameplay and unremarkable graphics and sound.
During E3 2018, Nintendo revealed they were releasing Sky Skipper on the Nintendo Switch eShop in July under the Arcade Archives series run by Hamster Corporation. The ROM image for the game was copied from the board in the cabinet at Nintendo of America because it is the only known unmodified boardset. According to Nintendo World Report, the rerelease may have taken years to come to fruition because of legal issues with Ikegami, a company that helped Nintendo program many of their early arcade games.
Reviewing the Switch release, both Nintendo World Report and Nintendo Life felt the game was enjoyable when playing for a hi-score, but also felt it lacked variety. Nintendo Life enjoyed "striking a balance between completing the levels quickly and plotting a route to maximise your point-scoring." Nintendo World Report did not like how the game repeated the same few stages and felt as though the game was not finished. They also panned the stage graphics, calling them "extremely crude" compared to Donkey Kong. Nintendo Life agreed in that the colors were garish in places and the environments were blocky, writing: "The simple design and plain backgrounds ensure everything is easy to follow, but Sky Skipper certainly shows its age." Both praised the extra options included with the Arcade Archives release.
In the early 2000s, developer Factor 5 founder Julian Eggebrecht made a deal with Nintendo that if he was able to ship Rogue Leader (2001) on schedule, he could borrow the machine for his company's arcade. Factor 5 shipped Rogue Leader on time and so they received the machine. Upon booting it up, they realized one of the ROM chips was dead. They reached out to Takeda who pulled the original files from Nintendo's archives, enabling Eggebrecht to repair the machine.
In 2016, a group of arcade restoration enthusiasts started a project to build a restored Sky Skipper cabinet. No complete cabinets were known to exist in private collections. There were only four boards in the hands of collectors which, although loaded with Popeye ROM images, were known to be converted Sky Skipper boards based on their serial numbers. Sky Skipper ROM images had mysteriously found their way online at some point in the past, so the team was able to deconvert the boards and reload them with Sky Skipper ROM images. They still needed information on the design and colors of the cabinet, so contacted video game player Billy Mitchell to put them in touch with Nintendo of America. To their surprise, Nintendo told them they still had one of the original Sky Skipper cabinets, and granted them access to examine it. They spent several hours in house scanning and photographing the cabinet. With the scans they took, and sourcing one of the four known boards, they were able to create a faithful recreation of the cabinet in Nintendo of America's archives.
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