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Sky Force Reloaded (PC) artwork

Sky Force Reloaded (PC) review

"A younger, more stylish Raiden, Sky Force Reloaded is good for a fun time until it all grinds to a halt "

Sky Force Reloaded reminds me more than a little bit of Raiden. Both games feature futuristic, military style vehicles, duking it out over war torn terrain. But Reloaded doesn't play anything like that long running vertical 2D shooter series. It isn't manic; bullets arenít coming at you fast and furious. And it definitely isn't in the bullet hell vein, as there is nary a projectile sheet here. The way you are expected to dodge enemy fire and return in kind, is decidedly old school, and thatís a welcome thing. The way you must progress through the game however, is decidedly not old school, and thatís a questionable thing.

The developers of the Sky Force series, Infinite Dream, have a long pedigree of crafting titles for mobile platforms. Reloaded itself began life in 2006 on the Palm OS (remember Palm Pilots? No?), before traveling to iOS a few years later, and then to the Sony PSP. A third Sky Force game, called Sky Force 2014 (guess when it came out?) ostensibly revived the sleeping franchise, as it was received well enough that it was updated and re-released as Sky Force Anniversary on iOS and Steam, and the spit-shined Reloaded looks like itís set to keep the ball rolling.

Sky Force Reloaded (PC) image

Finding out Reloaded was once a mobile title was definitely an ďa-ha!Ē moment for me, and that has nothing to do with presentation. Itís not even that the series has subscribed to the shameless pay-to-win model outright, but you can see where paying would definitely help ease the grind. This is because, Reloaded in particular (and the Sky Force canon in general), is not about powering up within each stage; itís about powering up from stage-to-stage. And that requires earning enough scratch, here in the form of stars dropped by vanquished foes, towards buying upgrades for your default gun, and unlocking more weapons: homing missiles, and one-time use lasers, shields and bombs.

Welcome to the grind. Itís fun-crippling, and itís two-fold: for starters, you'll find that getting powered up adequately is very expensive. But complicating matters is the fact that you must also earn your way through the levels, and that task too, is costly. Thatís right: beating level five, it seems, is no longer enough to earn access to level six. Access to every stage is gated, and a certain number of medals must be won on previous stages to permit you the right to play the next one. Every stage has 12 such medals available -- four unique medals to be won across three difficulty levels: normal, hard and insane. Hard tier is not available until every medal has been achieved on Normal, and so on.

The objectives attached to each medal aren't particularly creative: rescue every prisoner with your tether, take no damage, kill 70% of your enemies, and kill all enemies. Without even playing the game, you can probably surmise that the objectives get in each other's way, too. It's tough to rescue everyone who needs rescuing, while also killing everyone who needs killing on the same run.

You can see where this leads, canít you? You'll be returning to the same stages over and over, until you can claim enough in-level accolades to unlock later levels, and, while you're at it, youíll be earning valuable stars so that you can buy those coveted power ups. There are only 13 stages in Reloaded, but the game feels much, much longer than that. If only things were less expensive: if only fewer medals were required to unlock stages, and if only fewer stars were required to unlock upgrades. Then we might really have something here.

Sky Force Reloaded (PC) image

Instead, what we have is a stylish-looking take on Raiden, unassisted by forgettable music, and a campaign whose progression model is both surprisingly addictive and unsurprisingly tedious. The art style reminds me of Sine Mora: an attractive meshing of cartoonish with hyper realistic. It's definitely a pleasure to look at from a design standpoint. That said, despite the initial coolness factor, the levels are actually fairly nondescript. You will have a difficult time describing any given stage to someone who hasn't already seen the game. And the tunes are what can best be described as muted -- certainly not what youíd expect from a genre which usually thrives on bombastic techno, or raging electric guitar.

I appreciate the mere fact that Infinite Dreams brought their flagship shooter series to Steam, but it seems as if Reloadedís upgrade system should have had an overhaul for home-based play, or at least further tweaks to limit the incessant grinding required for less obnoxious progress. It's not that Reloaded is a difficult game; I seldom died because of some irksome bullet pattern coming my way. Usually your death will be down to your weaponís inability to eliminate even the feeblest enemies. You know that wave of four enemies that comes at you in almost every shooter? The one whose Ďleaderí drops power ups if you take out the whole chain? Well, in Reloaded you'll encounter situations where your gun will have to connect multiple times to bring down just one of those guys. All too soon, your screen will be cluttered with pesky foes who should have fallen to your guns and did not, and so, youíll chip away ineffectually until their number becomes legion and their bulk and bullets crowd the screen and only death remains.

And yet... as much as Iíve disparaged Reloadedís grind, it facilitates something that for this is genre is unheard of, and that's true accessibility. The shmup genre is one which has historically kept less skilled players from tasting any real success -- certainly, the glass shooter ceiilng is real. Reloaded allows you to practice early levels, while working away at your medal count, and while saving enough money to upgrade your ship such that more difficult later levels will fall to your sheer firepower, and dogged perserverance. Can't beat level eight no matter how hard you try? Every failed foray will accrue wealth towards building a better and better ship until you are more than likely able to do so, not just because you have improved with practice but because your ship has improved -- not despite, but because of -- your constant failure. Iím hard pressed to think of another shooter this inclusive. And so Sky Force Reloadedís quality is down to your willingness to embrace the grind. In spite of everything else, I was willing. Until I wasnít.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 10, 2017)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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honestgamer posted December 10, 2017:

Good review! I feel like I know enough about the game from your capable descriptions to be confident I'll enjoy playing it. I picked up Sky Force Anniversary on Wii U when it came out some time back, so I think I'll have to get around to playing that at some point. I hope it is kind to me!
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Masters posted December 10, 2017:

Thanks Jason, I'm glad you liked it. Given the way you characterize your shooter skills, I think you'll enjoy the series too. If you're willing to put the time in, and don't mind the repetition, it can be addicting and rewarding (especially getting past prior sticking points).

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