In this era with games as a medium truly coming into their own and walking the line between entertainment and art-form in their own right I think it’s very easy to forget where things began, with simple, pure fun. And this is where both the Vita as a system – with its vast library of “pure fun” titles – and Sky Force Anniversary as a game come into their own: with incredibly addictive, fast paced, at times challenging gameplay, Sky Force doesn’t need to tell a heart-breaking story or try to change your life – it just needs to help you have fun, and, in that sense, the mission has very much been accomplished.
However, it isn’t all good. While the game is tremendous fun, it suffers numerous issues that can really impact the enjoyment and immersion. Several times over my play-through, the game began to lag considerably when an abundance of enemies filled the screen. Whether this be Vita specific or not, it’s an issue that can be, as I’m sure is imaginable, incredibly annoying – it doesn’t necessarily affect whether one “wins” or “loses” a level in the game, but definitely spoils the aforementioned immersion.
Elsewhere, things are looking much better – I think the amount of fun the game is cannot be understated. This comes from not only the wonderfully easy to understand and use controls, but is also thanks to the fact that they feel absolutely fantastic. The gameplay is truly an achievement: it feels fast, fluid, arcadey and really natural – three things that really contribute to wanting to come back, and ensured that in doing so I never felt underwhelmed.
While wanting to come back is largely due to the gameplay, the presented challenge is also a large factor. I found myself being genuinely tested by several of the levels, which isn’t necessarily a new feeling – if you’ve read anything of mine before then you’ll know I’m very open about not being brilliant at games – but it feels refreshing to meet a challenge that, while hard, feels like it can be overcome simply by continuing to play a level and upgrading my ship. And as with beating a boss in a game like Dark Souls, the euphoria after having completed a level is near-unparalleled.
The challenge can also be ramped up: with nine levels overall, and each one with three modes of difficulty – normal, hard and insane – that can be unlocked when the previous one is completed, no matter how hard you want your games to be you should be satiated. That said, I found each mode manageable when complete with suitable upgrades – so if, like me, you aren’t looking for something impossible, but want to experience the whole game, you should be absolutely fine.
However, as often comes along with playing so much of a game, a number of other problems become apparent, namely the samey nature of much of what’s on offer, whether it be enemy or level design or the rewards for completing levels.
To be clear, there are a huge number of enemy designs within the game, but they aren’t used sparingly at all, with many revealed within the first few levels and thus leaving very few new ones after the fact. The seemingly very-repeated level design almost comes hand-in-hand with the enemies: due to the nature of the game, and it being a shoot-em-up, the levels themselves really come from the encounters with enemy ships or bases, rather than what’s going on in the background. While the background art is certainly very pretty, how the levels play out begin to feel rehashed after a few hours.
Each level comes with its own achievement system, each one rewarding for 70% and 100% (respectively) of enemies killed, finishing without being hit and collecting every single person that populates each stage (they can be saved by hovering over them for a few seconds and appear fairly frequently throughout your flying). To me, these rewards felt simply lazy, and not in line with the polish seen elsewhere: I don’t understand why more out-of-the-box achievements couldn’t have been come up with to ensure one feels as though they’re really spending their time trophy-hunting wisely (although, saying that, much of it is forced in order to unlock later stages in the overall game, so how you actually spend your time is dictated heavily by the game).
Overall, I loved my time with Sky Force. Sure, the text is way too small at every twist and turn, there are a huge amount of elements that feel like a rehash of something a few moments before, and some of the menus leave a lot to be desired – but, if you want pure fun in arcadey, hugely replayable levels that can offer a significant challenge when you want it, or a much more manageable one if you don’t, then this is very much a game for you. Sky Force Anniversary is blotched with less desirable features, but, as a whole, the blotches can be very easily ignored for what is, in essence, an incredibly fun and addictive game.