While I love most game genres on the Vita, I keep coming back to arcade games and more specifically retro or retro styled games. Whether it’s my age that influences that I don’t know but it certainly drew me to the Minis title Sky Force that I reviewed recently.
As I mentioned in that review, the original game was released in 2004 but in 2014 a new version was released to celebrate the games 10th Anniversary with new features, a graphical overhaul and major enhancements, aptly named Sky Force 2014. Last year this was finally ported to PlayStation platforms as Sky Force Anniversary but is it any good?
Unlike many “updates”, developers Infinite Dreams made the decision to offer significantly more than just cosmetic changes to the game. It’s far more than just new music and enhanced visuals and the game has been completely reworked from the group up and this is evident from the moment you start playing. Instead of being taken to the main menu, you are thrust right into the action and in the middle of an incredibly hectic level. It’s no ordinary part of the game though as you quickly find out. You’re talked through your mission by characters encouraging you along but you quickly find that your ship is woefully underpowered and you are heavily outgunned… and you don’t survive very long. At this point you begin to wonder if the game is set to be a LOT tougher that the original. But all is not what it seems…
That opening salvo is little more than an interactive intro sequence to the game and then you’re taken to the main menu. As with its predecessor you can alter the sound settings, view the developer credits, take advantage of the Cross Save facility. You can also check the high scores and leaderboards and your in-game statistics (if you like that sort of thing) or just jump right into the game itself.
Now this is where things really change. The basic game remains the same – it’s a vertically scrolling bullet-hell shooter. However, the game mechanics have been overhauled to give you a completely new game experience altogether. It’s still a case of surviving, destroying as many enemy craft as possible and reaching the end of each level to destroy the bosses, but it’s what happens between that has changed dramatically.
The first thing you notice are the power-ups. Instead of collecting these and boosting your weapons signficantly, the only real effect they have is to increase the rate of fire of your weapons (there are others that appear albeit rarely but these are mainly special limited use weapons). This may seem puzzling for a retro-styled shoot em up, but this is where the stars come in to play that make a welcome return from the first game. These are now more important than ever as they’re no longer just nice pickups for collecting extra points. Now they’re used as currency that you spend in the hangar that you can visit between levels. Instead of being allocated powerups automatically, now you have to purchase them but it’s not a great loss because there are now a lot more on offer with plenty of upgrades available for each. The system works quite well – there are 8 basic power ups, each of which need to be purchased to unlock and activate them. Once purchased, they can then be enhanced using more stars making them more powerful or effective. Unlike the previous game, you only have one life but you can buy health upgrades and a shield to help you survive that little bit longer!
The humans are still there who need rescuing but again this has been changed. Instead of just flying straight over them, now a cable is suspended from your ship and it takes a few seconds to rescue each one. Upgrades are available to speed this up or to extend the range of your cable making rescues easier but it just adds yet another twist to the game and another nice touch, especially when you look at the next new element to the game… Level Objectives.
Each of the nine levels has four main objectives that you need to try to achieve in addition to completing the level and defeating the boss. They vary in difficulty from defeating a target percentage of enemies, to collecting a certain number of stars or rescuing all of the humans on the level you are tackling. Each cleared objective earns you a medal and to progress through the levels you need to earn a minimum number of medals as well as completing the previous levels. Fortunately, you can go back and replay levels in any order – essential as you’ll want to earn as many stars as you can and upgrade your ship as much as possible.
That’s the basic game done, but that’s not all there is to it. There are a lot of hidden secrets to keep you coming back for more, even if you think you have seen everything that it has to offer. Appearing randomly through play are Cards. These unlock additional abilities for your ship that are activated automatically and there are 22 of these to find during play. For the PlayStation purists, there are leaderboards and trophies, and further online features in the form of weekly tournaments that take place (these are unlocked once you complete level 3) and the ability to play online with friends although I haven’t been able to test this feature out.
Visually the game looks absolutely stunning. Everything is now in full 3D and it really brings the visuals to life. Despite the increase in detail compared to the PSP incarnation, it doesn’t seem to put the Vita under any strain at all and it handles the game beautifully. It looks and plays like a dream (even more so with the extra bonus that the automatic firing that was present on the original has now been removed so this is now back under player control) and it just looks and sounds perfect and would be right at home in a modern arcade.
Is Sky Force Anniversary the most perfect shoot-em-up to grace the PS Vita? Not quite. I have to be honest and say that I’d reserve that honour for Llamasoft’s TxK and I don’t think any game will match the standards set by that but Sky Force Anniversary has certainly put up one hell of a fight. It delivers on all fronts and manages to offer enough addictive gameplay to keep even the most cynical of arcade addicts happy. With all of the objectives to achive, hidden secrets to be uncovered and online tournaments there’s plenty of extra content to keep you coming back to the game long after you’ve completed it as well, not to mention the leaderboards so you can keep challenging your friends to beat their high scores, just like the old days in the arcades. And for those of you who do love chasing trophies, there are plenty of those to give the game even more lasting appeal. What more could you ask for?
This is so much more than a HD remake as so many games are that have come before it. It’s a total reworking of the original that has taken everything that was great about Sky Force and enhanced and improved on it in almost every way. Even though it now triple the price of the original Minis release it is worth every penny and the new features and enhancements add a whole new level of depth to the game. I really can’t fault this and Infinite Dreams have managed to turn a great game into an essential purchase. Simply one of the best shoot-em-ups to grace the PS Vita.
At A Glance
- Title: Sky Force Anniversary
- Publisher: Infinite Dreams
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: Yes (PS3 / PS4)
- Cross Play: No
- Cross Save: Yes
- Multiplayer: Yes
- Memory Card Space Required: 343Mb
- PlayStation TV Compatible: TBC