Sky Force 2014 Review – My Second Love
I almost failed high-school. It was a spring day in 1995 and after classes were over we went to a pastry shop close by to grab something to eat. Waiting in line (yeah, the strudels were that good) a colleague told us if we’d seen the new arcade machine they’ve installed in one of the hidden corners. My schoolfellow and I went to check it out. The game was some sort of top-down view shooting game with 2 ships, a red and a blue one. I told my colleague to try it a bit while we wait and after playing for about 4 minutes we were both killed.
That game was Raiden and in the coming weeks me and my colleague became masters. I mean with a single coin we’d kill everything in sight and advance up to the final stage. With a single coin, we became that good. The downside was that it meant about 2 hours (if I recall correctly) spent there. Obviously it was reflected in our grades and we both had the poorest trimester in terms of performance. “Luckily” for us, the pastry shop decided to remove the Arcade machine because it wasn’t bringing in much money and we were able to actually finish high-school.
Raiden was the best Arcade shoot’em’up game I’ve ever played and it was a hit of the 90s. Since I lived in a post-communist country it took a while for the game to reach us, and since we didn’t have the money to buy consoles that was the only instance I’ve played Raiden until I reached college. By 2001 we were already in sync with worldwide releases and I must say I almost failed college too. IGN posted a glamorous review of an Arcade shoot’em’up game called “Sky Force”, a game released in 2004 (my graduation year) by Infinite Dreams, a neighboring Polish company. The instance I’ve seen a video demo for Sky Force I was overrun by the memories of my Raiden era and once again I engulfed every second of Sky Force’s gameplay. I’m talking about whole nights trying to achieve mastery. I did and again I almost failed at something, college. This time it was my girlfriend to awake me from my “sunken” days: “Either Sky Force goes or I go” (sometimes I wish I picked Sky Force).
In 2014 Infinite Dreams released a remake of their hit title, Sky Force. This time targeting only mobile devices with iOS or Android. I knew about the release and I was captivated by what the trailer showed, as you can witness below:
Unfortunately for me I was able to play it only recently (wife out of town, yay!) and this justifies why my previous post was more than a week ago. It’s fucking amazing. It’s like they took out the essence of the game, adjusted the gameplay for mobile devices, added graphics that make you cry of joy (I shed a tear just thinking of the bosses fights) and released it for free. And I’m close of achieving mastery in it too, though I’m not sure what the cost would be (marriage, job?). If you’re a fan of the original version or Arcade classics such as Raiden, BEWARE, Sky Force will be more addictive than sex. Trust me. I already started understanding what drug-addicts go through. Anyway, back on track, I’ll tell you (if you don’t already know), what the game is about.
Sky Force 2014 starts with a mission, you own a powerful ship with a cool main cannon and fight against hordes of incoming enemies. But you’re doomed, that starting mission is to help you understand the gameplay better, because the boss at the end of that mission will always destroy your cool ship. And after that you have to start over with a new ship that has a tiny main cannon. From that point (Stage 1) on, your main purpose is to clear all Stages and collect as many stars as possible to upgrade your ship. This way one day you’ll get to have a main cannon as cool as the initial one. The current story spans over 9 different stages, but each of those stages has 3 different levels (normal, hard, insane) plus a few bonus rounds and tournaments. So don’t be fooled, you cannot finish Sky Force, instead you play it over and over to get better and then they’ll release another stage – again a big BEWARE sign for you shmup lovers, there’s no escape with Sky Force, you will be addicted for life.
The gameplay is fairly easy if you’ve played shooting games before, just tap-hold and move your ship around as it will continuously shoot at incoming enemies. The innovative part is the slow-mo play, where if you release the finger the game will slow down to an almost end giving you time to think your next move or activate one of the power-ups (shield, laser or mega-bomb). All through the game you have to collect stars as those are the in-game currency for purchasing ship upgrades. Occasionally you also get power-ups and rarely you will collect cards (each card gives you a lifetime bonus, for instance upgrades ar 5% faster or you get an extra ship in hangar).
Every stage has 4 different missions: destroy 70% of the enemies, rescue all humans, stay un-touched and destroy 100% of the enemies. From my experience I can tell that if you finish a stage you definitely destroy 70% of the enemies. While rescuing humans and staying un-touched is again a thing of skill, destroying 100% of enemies is practically impossible if you don’t have an upgraded ship. The good part is you can advance to the next stage even if you don’t destroy 100% of the enemies, but the bad part is you cannot play a more difficult version of that stage if you don’t. And trust me, Insane mode is really insane, everything is tougher to destroy, everything is in greater numbers and there’s time your screen will be filled with flying enemies and their bullets. But it’s all worth it, in the end the only thing you want to do is try again, and again, and again…
While Sky Force 2014 is free it does show occasional ads (which can be removed for the price of a small McDonald’s hamburger) and has some sort of in-app purchases. You see, by default you have 10 ships in your hangar, equivalent of 10 lives. Each of those lives regenerates in time but if you’ve exhausted them all you have to wait to play more. Or use collected stars to play, ultimately purchasing stars with real money to unlock more ships or use for upgrades. But their limit is there for a reason, the game is so addictive by nature it’s good to have a limit that helps you get away from the tablet for a while. It’s the only game I’m grateful for having playing limits, otherwise I’d still be in a corner of my room shooting up 3D towers or nuking gi-normous tanks or helicopters.
Here are Sky Force’s features that will hook you in more than sex or drugs (swear I only did one of these 2 things):
- Incredible Graphics. I honestly thought that my Asus Transformer tablet will burn to death. Sky Force has an incredible 3D touch and the details are amazing. There are bullet-hell scenes when you’d think, that’s it, my tablet will die now, but somehow everything goes on smoothly without any lagging or crashes. They must have done some serious optimizations to be able to render that much detail yet be friendly on older tablets as well. Sky Force truly gives that depth-of-field without making it too annoying. I’m definitely glad they didn’t go all the way in for a full 3D game, as that would’ve altered the gameplay.
- 9 Stages. What, only 9 stages? If that’s what you’re thinking you can’t imagine how wrong you are. First of all, to advance from one stage to another you need to gather some awards (for instance rescuing all humans, destroying a percentage of your enemies), so simply finishing a stage without getting killed doesn’t mean you get to play the next stage. You need to finish it “cum laudae”. Next, each stage has 3 different difficulty settings: Normal, Hard and Insane. To advance from one to the other you need to master the previous one by destroying all enemies (like 100% of them), rescuing all humans and staying untouched. Tougher than it sounds, trust me. So in total there are actually 27 challenges. To those you also need to add some bonus stages which are time based, meaning if you don’t finish in 1 minute you die and accomplish nothing. When you thought that’s it, you find out there are also tournaments you can play in if you have at least 5 friends you’re connected with via Sky Force. You get to do nice things in tournaments, such as rescuing pilots that were shot down – you also participate in those to gain prizes. Sky Force has hundreds of hours of gameplay, and even then you’d still have something more to play. Just look at the walkthrough for Stage 9 below, and while you do keep in mind that guy is a master.
- Upgrades. You start with only your main cannon. But as you gather more stars, you are able to upgrade your ship with more advanced weapons: wing cannons, missiles, laser & mega bomb. Additionally you can improve your ship’s health, the star magnet (collects stars faster) and the ship’s manually activated energy shield. Each of these upgrade-able items has 3 levels of upgrades, each level with 10 different sub-levels so you’ll need stars, lots and lots of them to get the ultimate ship. My strategy is to focus on attack only, so most of my coins are used to upgrade the weapons first, then the defense (when the upgrades become too expensive for an item you switch to the next).
- Game Cards. From time to time (to time actually, as in rarely) you will discover a card in the game and that’s a moment of joy. Because cards will offer you lifetime bonuses, for instance lower upgrade times or more space in the hangar for your ship. Definitely something to hunt for. However, once you discover the card you must do your best to stay alive and finish the stage, otherwise if you die the card goes bye-bye too. I discovered that cards are usually hidden in the last placed you’d think of destroying, such as small hidden boxes or fast moving small ships. So have no mercy, kill them all and you’ll be rewarded. Obviously as the stages get tougher, the cards are more rewarding as well.
- Power-ups. There are 3 power-ups that give your ship a temporary boost of some kind: laser, mega-bomb or shield. Once you unlock them you’ll be able to see how great it is to swipe everything off screen with the laser, be invincible by activating a shield or dropping a Tsar bomb more powerful than the one Russians threaten to use. These power-ups are consumable, meaning at the beginning of each stage you need to purchase one, but the good part is you’ll also discover them throughout the stage.
- Awards & Leaderboards. Sky Force lets you connect via Google Play services and accumulate awards, but that’s more of a way to see how skillful your G+ friends are at the game or to show off how good you are. There’s also a total score that you get and you’re able to see how well you rank against your friends, as well as the per-stage awards: rescuing all humans, destroying 70-100% of enemies and staying untouched. These awards also grant you point multipliers so that the more you achieve the more those get… multiplied as in reaching millions. I have a friend with a score of over 20 million while I’m almost at 2, so it goes a long way to play and master it.
- Sounds & Soundtrack. Yes, there’s a custom soundtrack that instills some sort of patriotic feeling (I kid you not). You’ll also get from time to time voice instructions (which sounds pretty cool, not robotic voices) and the most helpful sounds are the in-game ones. I’ve played the game on mute and with sounds on and I can tell you, I score better when the sound is on, somehow you have an extra guide to help (i.e. when your health is low, when missiles are fired and so on).
- Socially-connected. Lastly, you can connect your G+ and Facebook accounts with Sky Force. At one point after my fingers were almost close to torticollis, I said that’s enough, I’m uninstalling the game. Which I did. A day later I felt bad and wanted everything back, so I re-installed the game, reconnected Facebook and voila, everything came back (including upgrades, statuses). So connecting your social networks will also offer a backup and the possibility to play the game from multiple devices. There’s also fun in having your Facebook friends for instance as you’ll be able how well you rank in comparison with them, not to mention that you are allowed to play in tournaments if you have at least 5 friends.
Sky Force 2014 is one of those games you’re happy tablets and phones exist for. I don’t care about a crappy bird that doesn’t know how to fly, but I do like a thoroughly designed game that knocks your socks off. As of right now the Android version has almost 270,000 ratings with an average of 4.5, that for installs between 1-5 millions. That means that 1 in 4 users reviewed the game and most likely gave it a positive rating – usually 1 in up to 100 users rate an app. This just means that even if the game doesn’t have the popularity it deserves, it’s so well designed that those playing it fall in love with it. And I agree, I love Sky Force, in fact so much I think at one point I’ll create a club for Sky Force Anonymous, users that want to be able to control their addiction. Will you join?
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