Sky Force 2014 in Review – Everything Old Is Awesome Again

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I’ve loved shmups ever since I started going to arcades, and since I’ve been reviewing mobile games I’ve always tended to compare them to the venerable classic 1942 from Capcom.  Sure that game didn’t have some of the niceties that modern shooters do, but it always provided solid game play and encouraged repeat performances by basically requiring you to memorize the enemy formations in order to master the game.  Welcome to 2014 and the tenth anniversary release of Sky Force from infinite dreams.  There was a reboot of 1942 launched in 2010, but as far as I’m concerned this is the true modern successor to that beloved game.  8 intense levels, plenty of upgrades and 3 difficulty levels make this a game you can play over and over again.  Now all they need is the trademark “flip” button and Sky Force 2014 would be about perfect.

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I could try to over-complicate things, but if you’re a shmup fan you know the drill: shoot everything and try to survive.  You have 8 levels over which you can hone your skills, and the good thing is that if you can memorize patterns you’ll eventually be able to conquer each level basically blindfolded.  The bad thing is that won’t matter once you advance to the next difficulty setting on a given level, because while the patterns basically stay the same you’ll find the enemies harder to kill and the bullets a lot more frequent.  Each level has three difficulty settings, and each difficulty has four goals: kill 70% of the enemies, kill 100% of the enemies, rescue all the hostages and fly through the entire level without getting hit once.  As you can imagine, you probably won’t be completing all of the goals at the same time for any given combination of level / difficulty setting.

Along the way you’ll collect stars, and you’ll definitely want to make an effort to snag as many of these as possible.  In between missions you’ll be able to upgrade 5 standard components of your ship as well as three specialty items including a laser weapon, shield and everyone’s favorite: the screen clearing bomb.  Most upgrades start off reasonable, but as you get further into the game it will cost a lot of stars to make your ship as powerful as it can be.  The thing is, I don’t mind the challenge at all, because it gives me a reason to keep coming back to play the game.  Of course if for some reason everything I’ve mentioned to you just isn’t quite enough to keep you busy, there are also 25 achievements to earn and a leaderboard on Game Center that I believe is the sum of your highest score on each of the levels you’ve completed, though I wouldn’t quote me on that if I were you.

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So here’s the down side to the game, if you can even call it that.  The game is free… no, that’s not it yet.  Because the game is free, you’re limited to 10 lives, and when those lives are gone you have to wait for them to replenish (thankfully you only “use up” a life if you die during a mission, and not just because you play a mission).  It also takes time for upgrades to take effect, unless you want to spend precious extra stars to speed up the process.  Of course you are perfectly welcome to buy stars via IAP if you’d like.  Personally I’ve found this to be one of the less intrusive freemium models I’ve run across, and quite frankly I’m cheap enough that I haven’t been bothered a bit by having to wait for things to replenish.  I run through my 10 ships at night and let hanger refill while I’m sleeping so my troops are fresh the next day.  It’s a flawless system in my book.

Along with all of the intense action, Sky Force 2014 boasts some really slick visuals.  Everything is well designed and extremely detailed, and the animation is top notch.  It’s rather a joy watching your enemy spiral into the sea, smoke and flames following their descent.  I love how some of the taller structures actually feel like they’re coming towards you, though I do have to remind myself sometimes that you can’t actually run into them.  The sound effects are fairly standard for a shmup, but they do a nice job of complementing the action.  There are voiceovers for things like getting health restored and collecting a weapon upgrade during a mission, and a rescued hostage shouting “yea-hah” always makes me crack a smile.  I’m a bit disappointed in the music, mainly because I expected it to be as varied as the different locales in each mission, yet to me it doesn’t seem much different between each level.  I’ve also noticed that if you have one or two games that you didn’t completely shut down, the sound will often not work at all.

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There will always be a special place in my heart for 1942, but I suppose at some point you have to move on.  Sky Force 2014 has finally given me the reason to do so.  Great level design, 3 difficulty settings per mission and a host of upgrades to claim make this one of the best shmup experiences I’ve had, mobile or otherwise.  The wait for upgrades to kick in and lives to replenish are minor annoyances, but in the end it actually works out because it forces me to go play something else for a while.  If you’re a fan of the genre I don’t know how you could lose with this selection.

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App Summary
Title: Sky Force 2014Developer: Infinite Dreams Inc.
Reviewed Ver:1.20Min OS Req:7.0
Price:FreeApp Size:137 MB
  • Great level design
  • 3 difficulty settings per mission
  • Tons of upgrades to work towards
  • Plenty of achievements to earn
  • Excellent visuals
  • Have to wait for upgrades to be applied and lives to refresh
  • Not enough variety in music

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