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Very rarely do I ever play mobile games. I have portable consoles, game consoles, and a PC so I just don’t see the need. I’ve never played a mobile game that I really enjoyed and I’m not a huge fan of the “free-to-play” model and I abhor the “pay-to-win” model. Nowadays, I would have to deal with touch screen controls or buy a controller which, to me, looks ridiculous for a device with such a small screen. But that’s just me. Sky Force is a shoot ’em up released in 2004 for mobile devices and I honestly never heard of it up until a couple of years ago when I saw Sky Force Anniversary release on Steam. From what I understand Sky Force 2014 was the third part in the series and released for iOS and Android as a free-to-play game. Developed and published by Infinite Dreams Inc., Sky Force Anniversary was released for PC in 2015 and PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Vita in 2016. It’s a port of Sky Force 2014 and for this review, I played the PC version. Only after I bought it did I realize it was originally a mobile game so I’ll admit I was turned off and just kind of brushed it off whenever I would scroll by it on my Steam list. I know, you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and Sky Force Anniversary does do away with the free-to-play model so there was no reason I shouldn’t have given it a chance earlier. Well recently I decided to get over my distaste for its mobile origins and said to myself “fuck it, I’m going to play this”.
I don’t think this game has any form of story and if it does, I have no idea what it’s about. The Steam page doesn’t mention anything about a story so I’m guessing it doesn’t have one. Every now and then portraits of characters appear on-screen and say shit accompanied by text and I don’t know who they are and quite frankly, I don’t care. They’re more annoying than anything but luckily they don’t stay on-screen for too long. I have no idea what’s going on, who the enemies are or what I’m fighting for, but I get to shoot shit and blow stuff up, and that’s good enough for me. Sky Force Anniversary is a vertical scrolling shmup that can be enjoyed solo or co-op. There’s nine stages to play through and every weekend there’s a new tournament. The tournament stage we played seemed to be just an endless stage to see how long you can survive with the obvious goal of achieving a high score. We only played the one so I don’t know if every tournament is like is.
Sky Force Anniversary has an emphasis on upgrading your ship with actually makes the game quite addicting. Killing enemies rewards you with stars that can be spent on ship upgrades. You can upgrade your main cannons, wing cannons, health, missiles, lasers, an energy shield, mega bomb, and you can even upgrade the ship’s magnet that will attract stars to your ship. I would say Sky Force Anniversary is a very accessible game for newcomers to the genre. Your ship won’t immediately blow up the moment it gets it and you can’t really crash into anything, minus enemies. Health pickups can be acquired from destroyed enemies or by destroying structures and objects in the stages. The lasers, energy shield, and mega bomb all use up ammo which can also be acquired throughout the stages or you can spend stars for ammo before a stage begins. Destroying the glowing enemies will cause them to drop weapon upgrades. Collecting these will increase your rate of fire. Every now then a card will appear and if you collect it, it provides a form artwork to look at from the cards menu, but more importantly, each card provides a bonus like increased fire rate, increased weapon damage, health regeneration, stuff like that. The cards seem to appear randomly.
The replay value in Sky Force Anniversary is high and that’s thanks to it’s medal system. Not only must you complete a stage to advance to the next but you’re also required to obtain a specific amount of medals to unlock later stages. Completing objectives rewards you with medals and thankfully you don’t need to obtain them all at once. You can always replay any stage and go for the medals you may have missed earlier. The objectives are the same for each stage. Destroy 70% of the enemies, destroy 100% of the enemies, rescue all of the humans, and stay untouched meaning don’t take any damage. Completing a set of medals unlocks a higher difficulty for that stage where you must complete the objectives again for that difficulty. Higher difficulties will grant you more stars from destroyed enemies and more points as well. There’s three difficulty modes – Normal, Hard, and Insane – and the higher difficulties mean enemies shoot more and they’re harder to kill. Upgrading your ship will make the higher difficulties much easier and all upgrades apply to both players, if playing cooperatively. The upgrades can be a bit of a grind but I can’t say it was ever tiresome. Even when replaying some of the earlier stages, there was always a medal we were still missing or a difficulty we didn’t unlock yet so there was always something to shoot for and at the same time we were earning stars for better upgrades. Playing cooperatively is highly recommended for the later stages since completing some of the objectives can be a real challenge. If you’re a person who cares about high scores, then you’re in luck. Your high scores for each stage is tracked and you can always try for a better score. It’s all about chains. Killing enemies in succession increases your chain for more points but if you lose an enemy, the chain is broken.
Even on Normal, the difficulty really ramps up in the later stages with some sections feeling like real trial and error scenarios. There’s a few areas where turrets will fire very powerful shots directly at you right as they appear on-screen and you have no way to know they’re there on your first run through the stage. The enemies consist of mostly planes, helicopters, and boats, as do the bosses. Other enemy types include turrets and tanks. Bosses are normally large and have multiple phases of attacks. Sky Force Anniversary is interesting because most of the time the game feels like a standard shmup but on the higher difficulties, or when up against bosses, it can feel more like a bullet hell shooter. On the insane difficulty, bullets, lasers, and missiles will be flying all over the place and trying to dodge the onslaught of projectiles can be a real challenge, making you really earn that “stay untouched” medal. Stage five is the most unique and also my least favorite. At the beginning of the stage, what I think is an EMP blast is fired at you, and it will disable your weapons if you get hit by it. You’ll need to fly through the rest of the stage without the ability to shoot at anything. Luckily, you only need to worry about turrets and avoid projectiles. It is possible to avoid the EMP blast but it will chase you throughout the entire stage. It’s just annoying. If I have any complaints about the stages overall it’s that they all feel the same. The stages don’t really vary in theme until late in the game and most of them are set in tropical areas. You’ll fly over oceans, towers, docks, and islands, sometimes bases and airfields but they all pretty much feel the same. The ninth and final stage is the standout, set in some kind of cold and icy climate.
I really love the visual presentation in Sky Force Anniversary. Everything is vibrant, colorful, and full of detail. Everything is soothing on the eyes and it’s just a pleasant game to look at. It’s hard not to notice the beautiful clear blue water as you fly overhead or the smoke emitting from the wreckage of a destroyed boat. Sometimes enemies will emerge from the clouds only to be destroyed by one of your missiles and the explosions in this game are immensely satisfying. Sometimes your shot will cause an enemy plane to crash into the surface or water below. Even your ship will show visible damage if you take enough hits. The little details here are really exceptional. The music is alright, nothing special. I think it’s full of electronic stuff which I’m never a huge fan of. It just kind of blends in and I found myself drowning it out after a while. It’s not obnoxious or anything and it fits in with what’s happening on-screen. It just doesn’t stand out is all. The sound effects are pretty good, nothing amazing. However, the explosions sound booming and match the satisfying visual display. Everything else sounds kind of standard. Your ship’s gunfire sounds kind of weak and is drowned out when the action gets intense.
I do have some issues with the visuals since they can conflict with the gameplay. It can be very easy to get your missiles mixed up with enemy missiles. When there’s a lot of explosions on-screen it’s very easy to lose track of enemies, projectiles, and stars. Most of the time everything that should stand out does. It’s just that when things get hectic, which happens more often on the higher difficulties, it’s easy to lose track of things and you can possibly fail an objective because you got hit, or missed an enemy, or maybe your ship blew up because you just couldn’t see the missiles headed straight for you. It gets a bit frustrating. Also, when playing cooperatively, the player one ship is red and the player two ship is pink. They’re just too similar in color. They may not seem like it but when things got hectic, I often lost track of my ship and didn’t realize I was staring at the player two ship until it was too late. The game also like to throw words like “nice” and “good” up on the screen whenever you increase your chain, I think, but the words are always placed directly in the center of the screen. It’s obnoxious because it can be distracting and considering it’s accompanied by a voice over, it’s just not necessary.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed my time with Sky Force Anniversary and I even forgot it was originally a mobile game. It’s a very accessible shmup that gradually gets more difficult the more you progress. Thanks to the upgrade system, the gameplay becomes very addicting and there’s plenty of replay value. I would imagine if you unlock all of the upgrades, difficulties, acquire all the medals, and find all of the cards the game would start to lose steam but at least it will take you a while to get to that point. It’s also a great looking game and runs super smooth. I’m glad I gave Sky Force Anniversary a chance because this is a perfect example of a mobile game port done right. It does away with the “free-to-play” model and offers a decent amount of content. I don’t know how it well it did on mobile devices but I think it’s well worth the ten dollar asking price on Steam. It’s perfect for casual players and I think it would even provide some fun for shmup veterans.