In a genre all about pattern recognition, Big Sky Infinity’s gimmick, that enemies are randomly generated each time you dive in, is nothing if not gutsy. Initially it’s jarring and discomforting as your instinct tells you to memorise waves and projectiles for your next attempt. That no two sessions are ever the same proves both refreshing and frustrating in equal measure. By forcing players to improvise, Big Sky Infinity becomes the perfect travel game: a snappy hit of a familiar genre that’s known and often reviled for its repetition. Developer Boss Baddie, then, has almost delivered a bullet-hell twin-stick shooter for those who’ve previously been turned off by either strand of this niche genre. Almost.
Hindering the game’s accessibility is its difficulty. Having to learn the rules of both enemies and environments on the fly is excruciating for the game’s first hour and may instantly put off anyone enamoured by its beauty – a fusion of R-Type’s delicate horizontal scrolling ships and projectiles and Geometry Wars’ neon hues, and a delight on Vita’s screen. A pitfall in the dazzling aesthetic, however, is that the backdrops – all fizzing space mists and bold block colours – interferes with the action: projectiles often blend in, swallowed by deep reds and purples. It’s a minor design issue that has major gameplay. The responsiveness of the thumbsticks and feedback from your craft, however, saves the day – the best reminder since Housemarque’s Super Stardust Delta that this really is a genre at its best on Sony’s handheld. It’s a shame your journey through Big Sky Infinity is marred by one of the worst voiceovers in recent memory: a Brit commentator hell-bent on repeating the same lines like a London banker trying his hand at stand-up comedy. Fortunately, the smug tones and dreadful gags can be switched off.
Outside of the core game there are further attempts to tinker with the genre’s traditional formula of modes that have rarely ventured outside of the comfort zone of “classic” or “arcade” playthroughs. Big Sky offers an asynchronous multiplayer challenge via Horse mode that has you post your high score to the world and await a challenger to knock you off your perch in the number of turns that correspond to the letters of your chosen keyword.
Though largely subversive in its approach to the shoot ‘em up, then, it’s strange to find Big Sky Infinity so attached to one of the genre’s mainstays: the high score leaderboard. In a game of so much chance and change each time a stage loads, the reliance on stats and encouragement to outgun the worldwide opposition feels negated by the game’s own randomness.
With Big Sky Infinity we’re reminded why Vita is still vital – it offers developers all the tools they need to deliver familiar forms in new ways, resetting if not entirely redefining the moulds of established genres. Just as Vita’s form factor challenges the status quo with its myriad functions, so too can the titles on it redefine and revive games previously neglected by a portable market that’s increasingly mobile and buttons-free. A bold experiment, then, if not a perfectly balanced or successful one.