In 2016, a mobile shoot ‘em up called Sky Force Anniversary made its way to consoles. Despite the humble origins, it proved to be a surprisingly robust and addictive game. Now Infinite Dreams has released the sequel Sky Force Reloaded on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam. With two-player local co-op and loads of new content, Reloaded just might be one of the best shmups ever made.
Sky Force Reloaded is a vertically-scrolling shmup that uses the full 16:9 playing field – a welcome upgrade over the mobile version's portrait-style presentation. The move from phones to consoles also brings much improved controls, although only the left analog stick is supported for steering. Anniversary let players steer with the D-Pad as well, and there’s really no excuse for the omission here.
After engaging in a short prologue stage, players will gain access to the world map. From there, you can select and replay any of the game’s 15 stages (provided you’ve unlocked them). Every stage has four medals to earn by completing objectives such as taking no damage or killing all enemies.
By earning all four medals on one difficulty level of a stage, you'll unlock the next difficulty for that stage. Enemies do more damage and have more life on higher difficulties, but the basic layout and enemy formations remain the same. Each higher difficulty level offers four more medals to earn before you can reach the next difficulty, so you'll have plenty of reason to keep playing and improving your performance on a level.
Speaking of difficulty, your aircraft shoots faster and can generally deal and receive more damage than before, which makes the higher difficulty levels a lot more enjoyable. In Anniversary, the later stages got painful at higher difficulties because your offensive abilities were so limited. Other improvements include power-ups automatically firing off when you’re full and pick up a new one, score rewards for defeating bosses quickly, and unlockable drones are more useful because they can no longer be destroyed.
Downed enemies leave behind stars to collect. These make a satisfying sound when grabbed, and they also act as currency. Numerous upgrades are available for purchase from the hangar, including health, weapons, and powerups. All can be upgraded much farther than in Anniversary – some have as many as sixty upgrades to purchase. Leveling up your equipment and becoming ever-more powerful is a big part of Sky Force's appeal, so more upgrades certainly adds to the fun.
New to Reloaded is the aircraft part system. While playing levels, you'll sometimes find a plane piece. Complete the level without dying to keep the piece. Once you find all five parts of a plane, you'll unlock it as a playable craft. Each has unique stats as bonuses, such as increased health or speed. Reloaded even offers Achievements and Trophies for beating the game with each plane, so get ready to assemble those ships and put them to work!
The final major new element here is the objective system. Under the Objective menu, you'll find various Achievement-like mini-objectives such as defeating a certain number of enemies, rescuing a number of hostages, or participating in the weekly tournament. As you complete these objectives, you'll earn prestige points. Collect enough points and you'll unlock new technicians. Each technician offers a unique bonus, but you can only equip one at a time.
As with Anniversary, the console and PC versions of Reloaded all support two-player local co-op for the main 15 stages (not the weekly tournament stage). The second player can’t use their own profile or earn Achievements/Trophies, which is a drag. Nor can they purchase power-ups at the start of the stage, unlike the first player. The second player is very firmly a guest in the main player’s game.
Still, bringing along an extra player makes things markedly easier for the main player. The difficulty doesn’t go up in co-op, so you’re doubling your firepower. Earning medals for destroying all enemies or rescuing all hostages becomes that much easier when working together with a friend. You only get one life per stage in Sky Force, and players can’t revive each other, unfortunately. But a downed partner can still collect stars as a ghost, provided you’ve found the collectible card that unlocks that ability.
Sky Force Reloaded has expanded so much, one has to wonder why Infinite Dreams doesn’t start numbering these games or at least naming them more descriptively. I expected Reloaded to be a remaster of Anniversary, but instead it’s a whole new and noticeably better game.
A whopping fifteen stages, all with multiple objectives and difficulties; numerous upgrades and collectible cards to find; and nine playable planes to assemble – Reloaded is one of the biggest and best games in the genre. Bring along a friend for co-op and you’ll have an even better time. At the low price of ten bucks, Sky Force Reloaded is a complete steal for shoot ‘em up fans.