Sky Force Anniversary Review Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on PC, Sony PS Vita, Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Shoot-’em-ups, or shmups as their commonly known as these days, have always been a big part of arcade gaming history with the Sky Force series bringing the genre closer to modern gaming standards by introducing a permanent upgrade system. Sky Force Anniversary is a non-free-to-play take on Sky Force 2014, the third installment in the series, bringing lots of bullet hell mayhem and adrenaline pumping challenges to the Nintendo Switch.
Sky Force Anniversary doesn’t have much when it comes to story. The few bits are introduced in the form of short taunts from cartoony portraits of bosses at the beginning of stages and right before your encounter with each of them begins. There’s a communications’ officer who also dishes out some warnings. Beyond these short snippets, though, there’s not much more narrative to the game. Although story hasn’t been a big part of shmups in general, it would have been a welcome addition to see some introduction to the game’s world or even a fully fledged story mode to tie the game’s 9 levels together.
What Sky Force Anniversary lacks in story, however, it does make up for in replay value. Progression between levels isn’t just tied to completion but also to the number of medals you collect by accomplishing challenges, such as destroying all enemies, rescuing stranded humans, and completing the level unscathed. As levels become harder, these challenges increase in difficulty as well which is where the game’s upgrade system comes into play. The player collects stars by destroying enemies which can then be spent to upgrade their ship’s various weapons and abilities. With enough stars, the player can equip their ship with a damage absorbing shield, a forward firing laser, and a crowd destroying megabomb. Acquiring enough medals and progression will also begin to unlock harder difficulties for each level, each with their own set of medals which count towards unlocking the later stages in the game which are quite challenging even on normal difficulty.
We found this progression to be quite addicting, though it may not be for everyone. Choosing what to upgrade each time isn’t quite as straightforward which could lead to having to repeat earlier levels just to grind out stars due to not having enough firepower to get through a level. Nevertheless, the game’s Hard and Insane mode provide fresher takes on the earlier stages making the repetition more palatable thanks to the fast-paced combat and the variety of enemy patterns.
Unlike earlier entries in the series, Sky Force Anniversary foregoes 2D sprites in favor of Sky Force 2014’s polygonal graphics. This doesn’t, however, mean that the game doesn’t look good. It’s bright colors and vibrant backdrops make the battlefield feel action-packed. Bullets and missiles are easy to distinguish. Humans have clear emotes to draw the player’s attention so they don’t miss them. Explosions are an exciting event, especially when a boss is taken down in spectacular fashion. This all coupled with a great soundtrack that pairs with the action nicely and raises the intensity even further. We encountered no technical issues on the Nintendo Switch. In both handheld and docked mode, the game ran smoothly and without frame drops, even during the game’s hectically busy level 7.
One of the best aspects of Sky Force Anniversary, however, is its ability for a second player to jump into the fray in good old fashioned couch co-op goodness. While this does make normal mode levels a lot easier to tackle, it's a welcome option for people who miss the thrills of standing side by side in front of an arcade cabinet blasting waves upon waves of enemies into oblivion. It's also a great showcase of the Switch's Joycons as individual controllers.
Sky Force Anniversary is an intense and well-designed shmup that’s a fitting addition to the Nintendo Switch. It’s great for long sessions as their are numerous medals and collectibles to grab in docked mode as well as short commute sessions in handheld mode. A few more story elements would have been ideal but the game’s addicting gameplay and upgrade system are enough to keep the player hooked. If it’s a high adrenaline bullet hell experience you’re looking to add to your Nintendo Switch collection, look no further than Sky Force Anniversary.