There are many games which rely on the grind; letting gamers pound away for little reason other than to level up, unlock a new skin or just ensure that they are placed higher on the latest leaderboard than the closest friend. But normally, it is those same games which you’ll gladly see the back of once your objectives have been hit, with the slog itself ensuring that you are left dazed and confused as to what to hit next. There is a very fine line between enjoyment and downright monotony, with many developers getting it completely wrong, quickly alienating the player.
Sky Force Anniversary is one title that brings a hell of a lot of grinding to the table – but thankfully it does it in the best way possible and Infinite Dreams need to be commended on creating something so goddamn good.
A full on remake of the 2004 classic, Sky Force, Anniversary brings you no less than nine levels of intense vertical scrolling shoot em up action, a whole load of upgrades, buckets of replayability and some of the most enjoyable grinding opportunities I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience.
Now, you may be sitting there wondering why on earth you should be bothering with something which delivers just nine levels, each of which is normally over inside of 10 minutes tops. Surely that will see your time with the game reach its conclusion in an hour or so? Well yeah, if you possess the skills of an RAF fighter pilot, then in theory that could well be true. But for the other 99.99% of the gaming population, it delivers enough content and bang for your buck to compete with the very best.
Those nine levels are easily doubled, tripled and then quadrupled, with the introduction of hard, insane and nightmare difficulty settings, and while you may be one who does not normally bother with those, this time round you’ll be left feeding on their delights. With four objectives, and therefore four more medals to win within each stage, going back over things once you’ve initially managed to get to the end is a big, big draw. Perhaps it’s just me, but when you see goals given that are so obtainable – kill 70% of enemies, collect 100% of stars, save all the little people, or get through things completely unscathed – then you’ll immediately be drawn back in.
But it’s not just the overall draw of being a completionist which brings the most delight with Anniversary. The shoot em up mechanics are spot on, super smooth and run at a nigh perfect pace. The enemies are cleverly designed and bring enough variety through the number of tanks, planes, helicopters and ground based structures to always keep you on your toes, and these in turn deliver a plentiful amount of bullets to dodge and swerve past. The end of stage bosses who seemingly revel in the delight of dishing out a battering, provide just the right amount of frustration and euphoria as well. They are however pretty unmemorable, and it would have been nice to see a bit of character and charm thrown in.
The weapons that you’ll have access to via the Hangar-cum-shop, and the upgrades that are in place on your ship, have also been sensibly thought out, with enough variety to let you see your choices affect the game. The main cannon is your staple shooter and without a doubt will see your trigger finger fixed to the RT for the entirety of your time with Sky Force. That main destruction bringer is complemented nicely by wing cannons and homing missiles which, when unlocked, see your ship become a bit of a beast.
You can also upgrade your ship’s health and magnetism, allowing for easier collection of floating stats which power the whole experience. Add in some super special hardcore options including a laser beam, energy shield and mega bomb which, as expected, wipe the screen of near on everything, and you’ll find that the arsenal of weapons at your disposal is a good one. At least that is once you’ve spent enough time going through things, time and time again, in order to establish your ship as the most badass it can be.
Going back over each stage multiple times, collecting stars, earning cash and splashing that cash on ship upgrades is requisite, but never does it get boring or tedious. The intelligent, and rather tempting, spacing of upgrade options works brilliantly and will see Sky Force Anniversary leaving you with that just one more go attitude throughout.
You’ll also want to head back into each stage in order to grab the multitude of collectable cards which randomly appear. Each of these makes the overall game just that little bit easier each time, discounting upgrades, making it easier to rescue a human and a load more. If you thought you’d only need to go back and spend more time with Anniversary in order to grind away at the achievements and gamerscore it brings, then think again.
There is also a lovely weekly tournament in place which seemingly ushers in an endless feeling to Sky Force – should you be good enough. Personally, I reckon the chance to check out the online leaderboards and compare yourself against friends on a weekly basis is a good enough reason to get involved. It is however a huge shame that this is limited to weekend only – what’s that all about iDreams? I want to partake in a bit of tournament action on a daily basis.
So far, everything I’ve talked about can be done as a solo player, but should you be able to coerce a friend into the battle, will find a local cooperative shooter which excels in every shape and form. In fact, it is when you take on the duel fight of Sky Force Anniversary in which you’ll find the real pleasure. Cooperation is quite obviously the name of the game and two heads are most definitely better than one in this instance. You see, doubling up allows each of the four objectives for each of the levels much more obtainable, something which is obviously apparent when there are two players on screen. Granted, the multiplayer aspect possibly doesn’t lend itself to obtaining the ‘unscathed‘ mission request – that is best left to a time when you are home alone, fully wired and ready to bring your A-game to the table – but the others pretty much require a bit of a hand from others. This is never more true once you decide to pile back into the hard and insane difficulty levels… and you’ll need to do just that in order to unlock further stages and rewards.
I never played the original Sky Force – or if I did, it wasn’t particularly memorable – but after checking out and thoroughly enjoying Anniversary, I’m not really sure how I missed something so awesome. It’s very nearly the perfect indie title, bringing plenty of joy, plenty of replayability and plenty of hot shmup action for a very reasonable price. The fact that some may struggle to really appreciate its complete depth due to no real world partner opportunities just lets it down a smidgen, and the exclusion of an online multiplayer option unfortunately holds it back from hitting the big 5/5 score.
Just make sure to embrace the grind and you’ll love what you find.