Tasty Static – The Tastiest Skyroads Clone in Existence

The few screenshots used in this review are from the official media page: http://www.tastystatic.com/media.php

So I just completed all the levels of Tasty Static. It was an effort that took several weeks of playing off and on, mostly in the evenings, usually beating several levels in each sitting.

I am a huge fan of the original Skyroads, and having beaten its 60 levels (including the Xmas Special version) years ago, was left with a taste for more (yes, Skyroads does this to you).  Unfortunately, in the two decades that passed since the classic, no additional mission packs were released, and no game really followed up and managed to reproduce the same game experience on the PC. Some ports were made to Flash, or to mobile platforms, mostly poorly made, and at best just offering the same experience on a different system, was all we had.

Until Tasty Static.

Running on modern Windows/Linux/MacOS PCs, with modernized graphics and sounds, it is really the first game I’ve seen that manages to recreate, very faithfully, the original Skyroads gameplay and all of its elements – the fun, the frustration, the amazing sense of achievement as you beat a new road, and the taste for more and more and more.

I will not attempt to explain the game from scratch. I assume that you are adept at the original Skyroads and like it. If you don’t know what Skyroads is, I eagerly urge you to try it (it runs flawlessly on any modern PC under DOSBox). If you know it, but dislike it, there is no reason for you to keep on reading, and no reason for you to try Tasty Static either – you probably will not like it one bit more.

I specifically wanted my first passage through the game to be as pure as possible. Therefore, I refrained from scouting the internet for any hints on the game, gameplay, strategies, or any communication with the other players. It is possible that I missed some things because of that, but I really wanted to get a first, unbiased and unaffected, impression.

If you want to get a similarly pure experience, you should probably stop reading as well, as there is a good deal of spoilers below.

So what did I like?

  • The basic formula. At its core, it is very similar to Skyroads, with the same basic mechanics of jumping, sliding, accelerating, braking, and collisions. There are differences (which I will get to later), but it is clearly designed to feel as much like Skyroads as possible. And it does it well. Things like variable gravity, and the need to recharge the ship in mid-level, which were good ways to spice up the original gameplay, are present and welcome.
  • It expands the original gameplay. Introducing interesting new elements, such as track reversal, upside down, auto-jump platforms, ledges and others – it makes the experience richer and adds more versatile challenges.
  • Difficulty progression. It again captures well the original Skyroads formula – starting easy, and getting gradually more and more difficult towards the end. There are cases when a level may actually be more difficult that those that follow, but this happened from time to time in the original as well. I think I was somewhere two thirds into the game when I first had hit the “100 deaths before completion of a level” mark, and most later levels required as much (with some particularly difficult ones requiring 300, 400 or even 500+ tries!)
  • Graphics. The wire frame looks very nice – simple, yet elegant, and the same time retro and modern. The support of higher resolutions makes the game look great on large monitors.
  • Style. Each trio of levels has its own theme, both visual (with different color palettes and graphical styles) and gameplay-wise. Some focus on jumps, others on lateral motion, and others yet on obstacles, and so on. Each level set also has its own unique music, most of the tracks being rather nice and fitting well into the atmosphere of the game.

What are the things that I did not like?

Really they come down to just two points: some particular differences between the gameplay mechanics of Skyroads and of Tasty Static, and control responsiveness problems.

So in what ways is it not Skyroads?

  • Lateral Jump Momentum. In Skyroads it is much easier to completely change the direction of every single jump – consecutive jumps are independent, which makes you truly feel the freedom of motion. In Tasty Static I felt that there is much more momentum involved between jumps – changing direction is harder, and if you don’t get enough build-up on your jump, you won’t make as far. This is not a big flaw, but it does make the game feel a bit more “sticky” and less fluid.
  • No Jump-o-Master. Now this one is the major difference. It is the one way in which the mechanics are totally different. The Jump-o-Master (JM) is the feature in the original Skyroads engine which allowed the game to change the effective speed of your ship in mid-air, so that to attempt to land successfully on a platform, and not miss it / crash into it, without you having anything to do with it. When the game activated it for you, the JM indicator on your dashboard would say “In Use” (normally is said “Idle”.

Effectively the JM made series of jumps easy, because you had some freedom in your ship speed, and did not have to set it exactly, or adjust it to account for small differences in platform-to-platform distance or jump timing. As long as you were “mostly correct”, the game would adjust your jump and you would succeed. Think of it as an equivalent of the “Auto-aim” feature present in some early shooter games.

Some people reading this now may wonder – Why would I want something like this? Isn’t the point of the game is to give complete control to the player? Isn’t setting the correct speed for the jump and varying it as needed part of the challenge?

Well, yes and no. Really, as a game developer / level designer you can go either way. Skyroads levels were plenty challenging and interesting with the JM – there are so many other ways to have tricky puzzles, which require both understanding of what needs to be done and precision in executing it. Not having to worry about very little speed/timing differences allows to make the jump sequences themselves more complicated. Skyroads does it really well, and for the most part so does Tasty Static. However, there are places where to succeed you must have very precise control of your speed and change it often, and fast. And this is just something that I don’t find very fun. This is not what I want to think about when playing a Skyroads-type game. Whereas most of Tasty Static succeeds to balance between pleasant and annoying, these parts – to me – are just annoying.

In the end, it is a matter of preference and perspective, and not a fundamental flaw in the game. Thankfully, the areas where constant speed tinkering is required are mostly short and not so common. For the most part, once I understood what to do, I managed to beat them without a lasting impression, except two specific levels – “Icy 3” and “Bytes 3”, which looking back, I just consider these two bad levels, with nothing fun about them. But again, it is all personal opinion. Others may disagree. [Edit: Now that I have been replaying the game, I retract some of the harshness about these levels. Having found alternate, easier ways to beat them, I no longer consider them bad. 🙂 My opinion on the lack of JM still stands, but overall I feel it does not interfere with the fun too often].

And what about the control problem I mentioned?

Well, this is one thing (so far the only thing) which I consider a real flaw, or bug in the game. Somehow the controls are just not as good as Skyroads. They are not as responsive. Way, way too often I would find myself trying to execute a lateral jump in a fairly straightforward situation, only to find that the left/right key did not register, and the ship instead jumps straight into death. And nothing is more annoying than to have this happen to you towards the end of a long and complex level.

I can say that in some levels, probably 10-20% of my deaths where because of this. And just so that you don’t think that there is a problem with me or my keyboard, I will point out that this never happens to me in Skyroads.

In the end, the best way to work around this problem, is to be aware that it may happen, and try to hit the keys very clearly, and exactly at the same time. I’ve also found that in sequences of jumps where you must change directions with every jump, it does sometimes help to keep the jump key down, and only tap the arrow keys. Finally, some places seem to be more prone to it than others.

It is an annoyance, but not a fatal flaw. Overall, it will not have a drastic effect on how long it will take you to beat the game, but it may make you want to slam your keyboard or punch the monitor once or twice during the experience. 🙂

Some little things I did not care for

  • The Extras, such as changing ship color (well, that’s actually nice), adding lasers (what for?) and playing with the camera perspective. Each of them may be fun for a minute or two, but really the game is meant to be played without them.
  • The death counter. While it may be interesting to compare the relative difficulty of levels by looking at how many deaths it took you before you beat them (or if you’ve been replaying them, how many deaths on average occur per successful completion), to me it feels a little foreign in the Skyroads experience, which Tasty Static so faithfully recreates. When I play the game, I expect to die, a lot, but I also expect the completion of a level to erase all those failures and fill me with a sense of joy and triumph. But here it is soured a bit, if I look at the scoreboard and see that it took me 44, or 131, or 304 deaths to complete it. Especially since there is no way to know how many of those deaths were because the controls just malfunctioned on me that one time that I was inches from victory (*cough*).


With the “don’t like” section being so much longer than the “like”, you may think that I was disappointed in Tasty Static. Nothing can be further from the truth. I really liked the game and I found it amazing. I feel it captures almost exactly the Skyroads experience, and then builds up on it. I elaborated on those couple of points that I didn’t like, mostly to vent some of this frustration and also to prepare players to what they will be dealing with, and make it easier. I strongly recommend that any fan of Skyroads plays Tasty Static. You are very much guaranteed the same mix of joy and anger as you got with the original.


2 thoughts on “Tasty Static – The Tastiest Skyroads Clone in Existence”

    1. Indeed there is, but I’ve discovered and played it around the same time (that’s why I mentioned 60 levels in the text, since the original and Xmas special have 30 each). 🙂

      I clarified the text a bit, following your comment. Thanks!

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