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Sky Force

Platform(s): PC, PSP, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Infinite Dreams
Release Date: Dec. 9, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'Sky Force Anniversary'

by Brian Dumlao on April 27, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Sky Force Anniversary is a classic arcade shooter, with 3D interactive objects, outstanding graphics, special effects, soundtrack and 100% of pure gameplay.

Buy Sky Force Anniversary

You'd be forgiven for not remembering a thing about the original Sky Force. Unlike other games that were remastered or remade, this title originally appeared on some phones running Pocket PC or Symbian before being ported to modern mobile operating systems at the turn of the decade. It wasn't until 2011 that the series started moving out of the mobile space to the PSP, and it was introduced to PC players in 2015, and the remake, Sky Force Anniversary, was released in 2016.

While the game plot isn't important, the opening scene is certainly interesting enough. You start with what is essentially the most powerful version of your old plane against the final boss. No matter what you do, you'll die and get a new plane before starting the game proper. The new plane, however, comes with basic firepower and armor, so it'll be up to you to bring the craft up to full strength before taking on the final boss again.

The core shooting goes for a classic feel, like the shooters of the 8- and 16-bit eras rather than the modern "bullet hell" titles. You'll still need to memorize patterns to give yourself the best possible chance at a high score, but instead of paying attention to bullets, you'll be looking at enemy appearance locations and flight patterns. That doesn't mean that enemies won't attack, but you'll be more likely to collide into an enemy head-on rather than their volley of bullets. Your craft actually has a health meter, so you can sustain a few hits before dying, but it also means that you can regain some health if you destroy an enemy and they spawn a heart. Destroying enemies not only gives you the chance to power-up your gun with temporary upgrades, but they also produce stars that become important later on. You can also rescue stranded soldiers if you briefly hover over them on the field for bonus points.

The stars are valuable because they're your form of currency for obtaining ship upgrades. At any time between levels, you have the option to return to your hangar and spend your stars to improve your ship. The more common upgrades are for your health meter and your basic gun, so you can take more hits and improve your gun. Most of the other upgrades include additional guns to fire in a spread pattern, homing missiles, bombs, and lasers. Non-weaponized upgrades are limited to a magnet, which allows the ship to attract more stars in the vicinity.

The stars and subsequent upgrades are essential due to the way level progression is handled. Unlike almost every other shooter, where beating the stage is good enough to advance to the next one, each of the nine stages are also gated by the number of medals you obtain. You can earn four medals in each stage, and the medals are skill-based in nature. Rescuing all of the downed people in a stage counts for a medal, as does completing a stage without suffering any damage. Killing 70% of the enemies nets you a medal, and you'll get another one for killing everyone in a stage. By obtaining all of the medals in a stage, you also unlock that stage's higher difficulty level, where enemies deal more damage and you deal less damage than before.

The effect of the medal system won't be felt until you attempt to reach Stage 5, which is when you'll notice the gameplay loop you've suddenly been forced into. An average performance on the first four stages will net you two or three medals each, and that's not enough to unlock the fifth stage. You'll have to replay prior stages to get the missing medals. It'll most likely be the 100% enemy kill medal, which is close to impossible with your default weapon set, so you need to replay and farm stars to pay for new weapons and upgrades. That ultimately means grinding away for stars in the same stages multiple times just to get a shot at unlocking a new level before having to do it all over again. Luckily, stars even count during runs that end in death, so no effort is wasted.

It is an interesting gameplay flow that has benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, the flow forces players to master the nuances of the shoot-'em-up genre to really see the game through. It may not be asking them to get so good that they can complete the title effortlessly on the highest difficulty level, but it ensures that they can't get through the default difficulty without a fight. On the other hand, the system feels too forced, since the 100% medal requires the ship upgrades.

Aside from the campaign, Sky Force Anniversary features a weekly challenge that lets players compete in specific stages under specific circumstances to take their place on a specific leaderboard. For those who feel that the global leaderboards are too much of a challenge, this is the perfect substitute. The game also features local co-op play. While online co-op would've been nice, the local co-op is still a fine addition since the mode isn't often available in the genre.

As far as presentation goes, it is very well done. The audio is a heavy electronica/chiptune mash-up that works quite well and is a nice departure from the expected rock genre. Voices are sparse, except for the very short cut scenes and the announcer, who bellows your chain combo status. Visually, the game looks quite stunning, as the polygonal background shows depth. The environments lack any real variety between the open sea and island jungles, but some of the enemy bullets don't stand out very well against the backdrops. Aside from their size, some of the colors are very well hidden at a quick glance, so it takes a while before you notice them.

If you can stand the grind, Sky Force Anniversary is great for fans of the classic shooter style. The pacing is done well, and the upgrade system gives you something to work for, even in death. The medals provide an incentive to aim for perfection, but their forced nature will turn off a few players. Sky Force Anniversary is worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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