Truth be told, I enjoyed shmups a lot more when they were in the arcades. They were still brutal, but they were gradually brutal. I could get a few levels of Xevious (my favorite to this day) under my belt before I’d need another quarter to advance.
For one reason or another, shmups have always seemed much harder on consoles. Perhaps that’s because you don’t have to pay to advance. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten older and just have less patience. Either way, I was pleasantly surprised when I started playing Sky Force Anniversary on the Switch and actually felt I was able to get something done without having to memorize attack patterns.
Nintendo’s website refers to Sky Force Anniversary as the “… re-creation of a near-perfect, air-based shoot ’em up.” Originally released by Infinite Dreams in 2004, the game went on to inspire Sky Force Reloaded and Sky Force 2014 before reaching the Switch in its current incarnation. And I have to tell you that even if you find shoot ‘em ups intimidating, Sky Force Anniversary is a total blast to play.
The premise is what you’d expect. There’s a haphazard story about who you’re shooting down and why, but it’s all there to be ignored. The characters who occasionally pop up on the screen to inspire or chastise you are quickly pushed aside for the action—because this game is all about the action.
You fly an advanced warplane, zipping around the screen from top to bottom to take out enemies, pick up power-ups and repairs, and rescue humans. You do the latter two by coming into contact with them, although you do have to stay within contact of the humans for a few seconds before they’re rescued. Doing so can make you a target for the myriad enemies attacking you, so choosing when to hover and when to dash is key to survival.
Picking up power-ups will increase your weapon power, but it’s not really noticeable during the levels. They do more damage, but you’re not getting advanced weaponry while in the air. Rather, you acquire points that can be used to “buy” upgrades and level them up in your hangar. This includes missiles, additional canons, lasers, force shields, magnets (to more easily pick up the bonuses) and more. It’s a great system that’s easy to stay on top of, and you’ll love how much easier the early levels become when you get a new weapon.
Sky Force Anniversary requires you to replay levels. You’ll want to do so to complete the challenges (rescue all humans, take no damage, destroy all enemies, etc.), but you can also upgrade your plane faster that way. Once you complete the first round of four initial challenges more difficult ones will be added. In other words, there’s more than enough to keep you busy here, and you’ll have to play for quite a while before you unlock all the levels.
There are three things I really love about Sky Force Anniversary. First, the visuals are fantastic. They’re very colorful and detailed, and although it’s easy to lose site of enemy projectiles when the screen gets busy (especially in portable mode) I never felt they were unfairly hidden. Also, there’s a wide variety of enemy targets with some big boss battles. The game never quits throwing new enemies at you to conquer, and even those that show up frequently will change up their patterns and attacks to get more challenging.
Second, enemies on the air and on the ground can be hit with your main bullets and missiles. I imagine purists may find this to be unrealistic and simplistic, but it makes it easier to have fun clearing the screen when you largely only need to worry about one button when doing so. Heck, even your missiles autofire so you don’t have to worry about them.
And third, the two-player local co-op gameplay is fantastic. In fact, it seems the game was developed to be played that way as it’s pretty much impossible to get 100% completion on your own. The developers even suggest adding a second player if the game becomes too challenging, but that’s not fully necessary. You can get through Sky Force on your own, you’ll just have to spend more time levelling up to do so.
Review: Sky Force Anniversary (Nintendo Switch)
At only $9.99, Sky Force Anniversary is a fantastic bargain on the Nintendo Switch. It may be a “re-creation” of a nearly 15-year-old game, but it looks and plays like it was custom made for this generation’s systems. It may be a bit too easy for hardcore STG fans, but that just means those of us who want some frenetic arcade action gaming without feeling totally powerless are going to keep coming back to Sky Force Anniversary for dozens of entertaining hours.