Wednesday, November 14

Review: Sky Force Anniversary [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Sometimes when games have sequels that are a bit too reminiscent of the previous release it makes writing a fresh review challenging. That’s very much the case for Sky Force Anniversary, which is a pretty great arcade-style shooter with progression based on the classic mobile game Sky Force. We’ve already seen the excellent update of that title on Switch in the form of Sky Force Reloaded, which played pretty well and had some great things to progressively unlock. Well, the same is true of Anniversary, just the levels have different aesthetics and flow so they’re distinct games but their experiences are nearly identical overall.

Starting with what really matters in a shooter of this kind the control, whether playing in docked mode with your Pro controller or on the go in handheld mode, is pretty well perfect. With so much happening on-screen it is vital that you’re able to weave in and out of waves of bullets and in this case when you die there’s nothing to blame but your own reflexes. In addition to that the game is plain gorgeous with colorful and detailed backdrops, impressive bosses, and no signs of performance issues even when the screen is awash in things for you to shoot or avoid. Also worth noting is that there aren’t any cases I saw where the scale of things in handheld mode became an issue, something that unfortunately happens more often than I’d like with games converted from other spaces.

Outside of the looks and control the most notable thing about Anniversary is the sheer volume of what can be unlocked over time, and with effort. Each of the game’s base 15 levels are typically tough enough to begin with but once you gain all 4 medals on them (70% enemies destroyed, 100% enemies destroyed, rescue all operatives, and complete the level untouched) you’ll then unlock the next difficulty level for the mission, offering more challenges and greater rewards. Accumulating stars in the levels will allow you to continue to upgrade your ship with better weapons and you’ll need them to keep the pace with enemies that can take a beating until you soup up your weaponry. As you go you’ll also discover cards that can give you either temporary or permanent benefits as well as parts to unlock additional fighters to play with. There’s simply a ton to unlock that will continue to move the bar on what you’ll be able to accomplish.

While I can appreciate the volume of what can be unlocked a criticism would be that I think the rate you unlock it at is a bit on the slow side. This is one area that reminds me the most of the game’s mobile roots, the grind to unlock rate feels slow like you’re trying to get around a paywall. For elements like parts of new ships or cards I don’t think I see an issue but considering that gaining medals becomes crucial to you progressing in levels at some point the fact that you need to upgrade quite a bit to easily destroy enemies, or that some enemies can pretty well one-hit kill you without serious health upgrades, can make earning more than half of the medals a serious challenge and for the wrong reasons. Another way it shows its head is the need to use stars to buy charges for your laser, shield, or bombs and that they don’t carry over from mission to mission even with as stingy as the game typically can be in awarding them randomly. There’s just something to it all that feels like the game wants to prolong the time you’ll be playing it a bit too much which is frustrating.

At the end of the day Sky Force Anniversary is a gorgeous and challenging arcade shooter, and deserving of your attention on Switch even though the genre has become more crowded. Its looks are top-notch, it offers a significant degree of challenge for shmup fans, and its controls are buttery-smooth. Just be prepared to invest in the game for the long-term if you really want to see all it has to offer, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I just feel like the game could and should perhaps ease up the throttle, at least early on, to give people a few unlocks to better see what’s possible earlier on so they don’t necessarily give up before seeing much of what the game has to offer.

Score: 8

  • Looks great in docked and portable modes
  • Control is spot-on
  • A ton of things to unlock and upgrade

  • There’s a level of grinding that is a bit too reminiscent of its mobile roots
  • Charges for your shields, laser, and bombs don’t carry over, are infrequently awarded, and need to be bought… which is a bit annoying
  • The game is more focused on long-term play with its unlock rate, meaning many people will likely tire of it before seeing everything it has to offer
  • To some degree in terms of the core experience this and Sky Force Reloaded are the same games, recommending both may be a stretch and I wouldn’t consider either clearly better than the other