One of my favourite features about the PS Vita is its ability to run legacy software – games from Sony’s rich back catalogue of titles that are available for the PS One and PSP, not to mention the library of games that were released as part of the Minis range. There were a great many gems released as part of this bite-sized budget range, many of which were overlooked by both PSP and PS3 owners alike. Sky Force, from Infinite Dreams, is such a release and is a vertically-scrolling bullet hell shooter that harks back to the arcades of the 1980s, a place I know very well from my youth…
First released in 2004 for mobile devices, the port to the PSP made its debut several years later in 2010. I know what you’re thinking but don’t let its origins put you off. Most mobile to console games tend to mean one thing – tower defence or match three puzzle games or ones that offer limited depth or gameplay and certainly not titles that will provide long-term appeal and playability. When I first approached Sky Force I was quite fortunate as I had little foreknowledge of its history so I was able to jump straight into the game itself.
Going straight to the options first, things are pretty limited providing nothing more than volume sliders for music and sound effects. Being an old-school gamer, I cranked up the chip tune soundtrack to maximum and proceeded to start the game proper. Here, further options were offered for the difficulty settings. Three choices were offered – Easy, Normal and Hard with each altering two aspects of the game. First, the aggressiveness of your opponents and the second altered the core game objective for each level.
Unusually, rather than play through each level to the end then defeating the boss to complete them, you have to play through and eliminate a set percentage of opponents. If you manage that and then defeat the boss, you complete the level. If not, you’re given a status report on your performance and you have to try again. Fortunately you’re not penalised and you don’t lose any lives other than the ones you’ve lost during the level but it’s back to the start to try again!
Along the way there are humans to rescue and stars to collect that are left behind from opponents you destroy (as bad guys always seem to do these days!) for bonus points. No bullet hell shoot-em-up is worthy of entry into the genre without power-ups and Sky Force is no exception. Starting off with a basic single shot weapon, this can be upgraded by picking up weapon boosts dropped randomly as you defeat complete attack waves. Starting off by increasing your rate of attack, this steadily develops, increasing your firepower, adding homing missiles and more. Not forgetting the ever-trustworthy smart weapons that you have at your disposal to help you through all eight levels on offer.
Visually the game is a treat and reminds me of arcade classics like Raiden and games of that era. It’s not quite as polished, but it’s a great looking shooter as you can see from the screenshots, it’s smooth, has a great 3D effect for the buildings that are part of the scenery and it never slows down even when things hot up on screen. Sound is just as accomplished with a great chip tune that plays throughout and thumping sound effects that fit the action superbly.
Controls are a little strange and this is the only time I’d say that the game betrays its mobile origins. It fires automatically throughout so the only controls you have to concern yourself with are movement and the use of your smart weapon. The action is still frantic enough to keep you on your toes but I would have preferred it if Infinite Dreams had given PSP owners the chance to have this back under their control for this port. It doesn’t ruin the game at all but giving that back to gamers would have added to it that much more.
The key thing here is the playability and Sky Force has it by the bucketload. Despite being “just” an old school arcade shooter, it manages to deliver this 80s style gameplay with gusto. It’s an incredibly addictive game with just enough of a twist to keep things interesting. While some games of this ilk will allow you to get through levels by avoiding as much as possible and hope that you can just take out the end of level boss, here you’re forced to fight your way through so you can’t let up for one minute keeping you right in the action at all times.
It’s a game that I found really hard to put down despite its age and at such an incredibly low price (£2.49 on the PSN Store for UK gamers), and one that you can run on three different systems for one payment, it’s a purchase that you won’t regret!
At A Glance
- Title: Sky Force
- Publisher: Infinite Dreams
- Format: PSP Mini / PSN Download
- Cross Buy: N / A (But single download can be used on PS Vita, PSP and PS3)
- Cross Play: N / A
- Cross Save: N / A (But save game data can be transferred to a PSP or PS3)
- Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Required: 23Mb
- PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes