Classic shoot 'em up gameplay is awesome when it's done correctly. The original Sky Force (available for mobile devices including PSP) was pretty cool so let's see how it evolved over the years.
When you first start playing Sky Force Anniversary, you'll notice that it's very slow-paced. This took a lot for me to get used to seeing as I recently experienced the hectic action of Caladrius Blaze. However, the easygoing speed is more reminiscent of classic shmups like 1942 and TwinBee. Keep in mind, just because it's slow, that doesn't mean that it's easy. In fact, the later stages get quite intense with steady lasers that stretch across the width of the screen, homing missiles coming straight at you, and bullets flying around in every direction. In the end, the old-school nature of the gameplay is challenging enough to be rewarding yet not too intense that it'll turn away casual gamers. That's a tough balance to strike for sure, but Sky Force Anniversary manages to accomplish it quite well.
Visually, Sky Force Anniversary is impressive with detailed 3D rendered backgrounds, easily distinguishable enemy types, and projectiles that pop off the screen. That said; I found a few projectiles to be ambiguous later on in the campaign. For example, I couldn't tell the difference between one of my own homing missiles and an enemy's, but it didn't cause much of a problem because I just avoided both of them. Anyway, the environments look great but unfortunately, they don't change much throughout. You'll come across water, islands complete with trees and rocky landscapes, and the odd industrial complex. In other words, the entire campaign seems to take place within the same location. The music fits nicely in the background and the sound effects are appropriate but the voices get incredibly annoying. Hearing "Human rescued" and "Weapon upgrade" countless times will drive anyone insane.
As you play Sky Force Anniversary, you'll gather stars that you can redeem to upgrade your ship. You start with a simple shot but you'll be much more capable by the end of the campaign. You'll acquire secondary cannons, more health, a magnet to draw items towards you, and automatic homing missiles. Also, there are three additional bomb-style weapons that you can purchase expensive ammo for including a laser, energy shield, and mega bomb. On top of this, you can upgrade your main weapon along with all of the extra components that I just mentioned. Turning your ship from a less than capable fighting machine into a force of destruction feels awesome but it also takes a lot away from the challenge. I wish stages implemented a cap for upgrades because things get far too easy after levelling up a bunch. To put it another way, success can rely more on grinding than it does on skill alone.
Each of Sky Force Anniversary's nine stages includes a list of challenges to master that usually consist of defeating a certain number of enemies, slaughtering all enemies, rescuing all of the humans, and not taking any damage. You unlock further stages by obtaining enough medals from these challenges and you also unlock additional difficulty settings upon completing all of the challenges for a specific stage. These difficulties allow you to earn even more medals so there is a ton of replay value. On top of this, you can find cards that give you permanent boosts. Doing everything will certainly take a long time. That being said, there are still only nine stages with no extra modes so you'll likely see the same things over and over again. You could always invite a pal over to alleviate some of the tedium.
Sky Force Anniversary is a fun shoot 'em up that fans of the genre and casual gamers can both enjoy. Although hardcore enthusiasts may be put off by the upgrade system and there isn't enough variety, it's still a worthwhile shmup that's reminiscent of the old-school.
- + Enjoyable slow-paced 2D shooting
- + Satisfying upgrade system
- + Various difficulty settings, challenges, and card system add some significant replay value
- - Only consists of nine stages
- - Upgrades take too much challenge away
- - Environments don't offer enough variety and voices get annoying quick