Sky Force Anniversary – Review

Title   Sky Force Anniversary
Developer  Infinite Dreams
Publisher  Infinite Dreams
Platform  PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Windows PC
Genre  Action, vertical scroller
Release Date  September 7, 2016

That leap from mobile platforms to the big-boy consoles isn’t one that many developers can manage without crashing down to Earth in a giant heap of piss. They are just two different things. Mobile gaming is all compromised controls and IAPs, and so when you try to force a mobile title onto a PS4, you’ve usually got to fundamentally change it while also significantly upping the quality of the visuals which, of course, nobody ever does.

Sky Force Anniversary does have the advantage of having a 2015 PC version to act as a pitstop for the series on its way to the PS4, but the game still shows signs of the original mobile roots.

The first Sky Force was released in 2005 with the PC ‘Anniversary‘ edition arriving ten years later. This PS4 version is a port of that version and is a vertically-scrolling shoot ‘em up, straight from the old school. Now any game in this genre is thought of as old school, but before all of the classic bullet-hell shooters, games were more sedate affairs like this game is. Taking its cues from the old Capcom classic 1942, Sky Force Anniversary sees you flying onwards and upwards through the assorted forces of General Mantis’ army. In real terms this means planes, tanks, turrets, boats and, of course, big old bosses. Everything can be shot down and, thankfully, there’s no Xevious-style bombing button; your machine guns handle everything.

As much as I enjoy a good bullet-hell shooter, it’s a relief that this keeps it simple. Instead of memorising patterns, you’re reacting more. That’s what the early shoot ‘em ups were about before games like Ikaruga turned them into memory tests and with the game’s slick controls, Sky Force has a nice feel to it.

It also starts in an interesting way. After the developer and publisher logos appear, you realise that the game puts you in control of your plane right away. A few waves of enemies and one big, badass boss later and you’re destroyed. You survive and your handler tells you that it’s time to get a new plane, one that you’ll have to build up again.

This is the core of the game. After being in full badass mode in the intro, you find yourself stripped back with basically a pea shooter of a main weapon and no other tricks. As you destroy enemies, they drop stars. These stars can be collected and spent on new weapons and upgrading existing ones. A lot of stars are required to max everything though and this is where the game reveals its mobile roots.

While the game only has nine stages, you’ll be replaying them a lot. Firstly, for the medals which are earned for destroying all the enemies, rescuing captives and not taking damage. Earn all the medals and you’ll unlock a harder difficulty. Secondly, you’ll need the stars that you earn to power yourself up enough to get through the game. There’s a pretty significant challenge awaiting you but you will need to beef up before you can take it on.

Now, in the mobile world you’d have two options: grind it out or pay some cash. There’s no in-app purchasing here though, and so replaying those levels over and over is the only way to go. Aces of the Luftwaffe pulled that shit and made it a chore which is why I hated the game a lot, but here the upgrading is a lot faster and more addictive and the medals give you a good reason to replay those levels. They are also short , so it doesn’t feel that bad.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather a level playing field with levels that you play through and then move onto the next, learning as you go and getting better that way, but pitching those so that they suit casual players and veterans is always difficult. This system works when it comes to being inclusive to everyone and, more than that, the game is just a lot of fun.

When you’ve added a bit of pep to that machine gun and have added some wing cannons and homing missiles, the game starts to ease up for a while but then you hit the next challenge and it forces you to upgrade a bit but also get better.

The game looks and sounds great. While its played entirely on a 2D plane, the graphics are high resolution 3D, giving the game a really polished look. Occasionally the bullets can get lost in the detail, which is an ongoing issue with vertically-scrolling shooters, but, for the most part, once you get your eye in, you’ll be fine. The game also offers cross-buy compatibility with the PS3 and Vita, with excellently seemless cross-saving too, letting you take your progress with you to the toilet if it all gets a bit too addictive.

If you’re looking for a shoot ‘em up that gives you a way to work past the difficulty spikes, then Sky Force Anniversary with its reasonably sedate pacing offers a relaxing kind of shooter but its not boring either. Working through the upgrades requires a little persistance but working through the medals requires skill and earning the hard ones is rewarding.

That said, the levels are kind of samey. There’s not much stuff to see that you won’t have flown over or shot in the first couple of levels. A bit more variation would have been nice, at least to give each level a different feel. Then again, 1942 didn’t, so I guess that’s par for the course.

Sky Force Anniversary is decent. Really decent. When a game gets its hooks in you like this, it has to be good. 1CC-chasing, shoot ‘em afficiandos may find the focus on upgrading a little bit ‘for the plebs‘ but if you want an accessible shoot ‘em up with plenty of reasons to keep playing, this game delivers.

  • Accomplished shoot 'em up gameplay, without the bullet hell
  • Slick controls
  • Good upgrades
  • Neat visuals
  • Cross-buy and seemless cross-saving
  • Maybe too much focus on replayability
  • Lacks variation

PSN doesn't have enough old school shoot 'em ups on it and this trip down memory lane offers accessible shooty fun for all. Purists may want to stick to games that vomit every pixel directly into your face but this should suit everyone else.

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