Sky Force Reloaded review – Shmups and Downs

One of my favourite ways to spend time in the arcades (before Street Fighter II came along and stole years of my life) was playing vertically scrolling shoot-em-ups like 1942, Raiden and Sky Shark. Back before the genre become flooded with bullet-hell games that requires the dexterity of caffeine-addled ninjas, they were great for a being challenging, but not too challenging.

It’s a genre I’ve sorely missed; one that nearly disappeared along with the arcades that once housed its best examples. Though there have been quite a few fantastic shmups in modern times, it’s a genre that’s neglected. Playing the newly released Sky Force Reloaded made me yearn for those halcyon days, sure – but it also made me wonder if modernising those sorts of games is a good idea.

As its name implies Sky Force Reloaded isn’t an entirely new game, but a riff on an older one. It’s a modernising of Sky Force, a 2004 mobile-focused shmup that saw a re-release of sorts a few years ago in Sky Force Anniversary. As far as the formula goes, it hasn’t really changed. You control a ship vertically-moving ship that’s facing an onslaught of enemies and their projectiles. It’s your job to shoot everything that moves, while taking as little damage as possible lest you explode.

There’s a bit of as difference here though, as it takes the RPG/Rogue-Lite route and lets you upgrade your ship – something you’ll need to do if you have any plans of progressing. The game in itself isn’t especially difficult, but it starts you off with such a limited set of weaponry that it feels like you’re bringing a single, soggy piece of spaghetti to a gunfight. Okay, that’s not technically true. The game starts you off in a suitably equipped ship, only to force you to die at the hands of a boss – and then, then it gives you a ship equipped with a peashooter.

As you destroy enemies, they leave behind stars. Collect those stars, and you can use them to slowly, slowly upgrade your ship. You can start upgrading your main cannon, or your health – or save up stars to grab wing-mounted guns, or a magnet to help you collect stars more easily. Later on, you can get shields and bombs – but it’s very slow going, and honestly, it becomes a bit of a grind.

There’s quitter a ramp in difficulty between stages, so very often you’ll have to replay the previous stages, earning more stores to continue the upgrade cycle. Thankfully, there’s a medal system in play that makes doing that a little less monotonous. By fulfilling certain condition on a level – saving all of the humans, killing all of the enemies, collecting a certain percentage of stars or avoiding damage – you’ll earn medals, and higher scores.

Beyond the rogue-lite modernisation, the game doesn’t really try to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s an otherwise pretty standard vertical vshmpu, that has you doing all of the things you associate with the genre. Movement is smooth enough (though there’s no D-Pad support for some reason), and the shooting is just fine. Its biggest problem is that it doesn’t really do anything that Sky Force Anniversary did a few years ago. The grind is also terribly presumptious; not everybody will want to replay the same stages over and over (and over!) just to proceed.

That said all said, I enjoyed playing Sky Force Reloaded. The upgrade system gives it a fair bit more longevity than other games of this sort, where the only reason to replay is to chase scores. It does also support couch co-op, so two people can spend hours grinding for stars.

Last Updated: November 29, 2017

A vertical shoot-em-up that does its best to modernise the genre with an upgrade and progression system. It successfully captures the spirit of older games of its ilk, but the perpetual grind may dissuade many players. Sky Force Reloaded was reviewed on PlayStation 4