From the pages of the past, games of yesteryear – Skyfox

EA’s ad is pretty plain, but the action of the game was the kind of arcadey goodness that other games like Sega’s Afterburner in the arcades would thrill players with.

The mock up above wasn’t in the game, but the screenshots revealed a look that later space sims would often use as the de facto cockpit view.

Ray Tobey’s Skyfox, published by EA in 1984, was an arcade sim pitting players against waves of tanks, fighters, and menacing motherships in a desperate battle to keep their homebase safe. It was also a lot of fun and had as much fun with the packaging. Skyfox’s 5.25″ disk arrived inside an ‘album’ that opened up revealing a comic drawn on both panels inside describing the story of a sudden attack on the base by a mysterious enemy. The lone pilot gets away in the Skyfox — an experimental fighter designed by “Designsmith Ray Tobey” — who appears in the clouds as a vision to inspire confidence against overwhelming hordes of baddies. It’s something that could have been expanded on in the Atari Force comics.

Skyfox’s cockpit was not only functional, but it looked great, displaying all sorts of vital information at a glance from compass heading to your map coordinates and guided missile count. Functions were toggled on the keyboard and a ‘stick was needed to actually fly the Skyfox to defend installations on the ground or engage enemy forces and their hovering, heavily defended mothership.

The first seven missions were tutorials — you didn’t have to worry too much about defending any base, just blowing up targets to get used to the controls. The actual invasions, all eight of them, escalated in difficulty and were the real deal putting your homebase in the line of fire. Fortunately, your ship had lasers, missiles, radar, and shields. It also had fuel you had to worry about as another reason to keep that base alive. Ranks determined how tough the missions were, such as Ace of the Base which was the hardest level of all.

Part of me wants to guess that the game was partially inspired by a film in 1982 called Firefox starring Clint Eastwood as a troubled American pilot tapped to steal the prototype of the Soviets’ most advanced super fighter. It was great Cold War cinema — a lone American going behind the Iron Curtain, aided by an underground network of agents, to steal a plane that could shoot things down with his brainwaves. Years later, that fantasy would become reality as entrepreneurs put it to work with animated cat ears.

The game came out on a large number of platforms such as the Amiga, the Commodore 64, the Macintosh, ZX Spectrum, Atari ST, and a popular platform at the time, the venerable Apple II. Unfortunately, it wasn’t released in today’s world on any digital service aside from being regarded as abandonware — another victim of neglect. Though if you have the right emulator, the ‘net has copies of it floating around in case you want to sample its old school simplicity.

Skyfox also had a sequel — Skyfox II: The Cygnus Conflict — which took place in space with more missions, better graphics, and simply more stuff to do.

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