If you are like me, you probably have halcyon childhood memories of Saturday mornings spent in front of your television, clutching an NES controller in your hands. Maybe you complimented the experience with a bowl of cold cereal (if you were an early riser) or a bag of barbecue chips. Of course, you probably played all the classics: Super Mario 3, The Legend of Zelda, or Punch Out, but then there were those lesser known titles that earned your love.
Let’s take the hypothetical further: If you grew up in the 80s, or even the 90s, you probably saw Top Gun, and on the off chance that your Dad was a U.S. Air Force pilot (or just an aviation aficionado) you may have spent a fair amount of time at airshows. You may have put diagrams of airplanes on your walls and collected bomber jackets and dreamed of jumping out the back of a C-130. If all that was the case, you just might have fallen in love with a game like Captain Skyhawk.
I honestly can’t remember how many times I played this game. I know it’s one of the earliest titles I ever owned for the NES. Developed and published by Rare, the game has drawn comparisons to Zaxxon. You played as the titular Captain Skyhawk and you were tasked with warding off an alien attack. You did this by piloting a F-14VTS (a riff on the real life Tomahawk F-14). Much of the game was played from a top down perspective. You flew through isometric landscapes using your fighter to destroy enemy bases and to drop supplies to scientists. There were multiple paths you could take as you moved through the level.
Other portions of the game placed the camera behind you and required you to blast enemy ships out of the sky. Still another aspect of gameplay centered around precision and asked you to dock your ship with a space station. After docking with the space station, you had the opportunity to purchase weapon upgrades. In total, there were four weapons available to you: a cannon, Phoenix Air Intercept Missiles, Maverick air-to-ground missiles, and Hawk bombs.
There were nine total levels, and the game ended when you successfully destroyed the mother-ship. Between you and me, I don’t recall ever getting close to completing the game.
I know nothing about the historical legacy of the game, or even if it can be accurately said to have a legacy at all. I don’t know how popular the game was, or what kind of critical praise or condemnation it earned. Honestly, I don’t care. I loved it. I played it to the point of distraction and failed miserably at it time and time again. It was brilliant.