For a remake of a decade old mobile game that liberally cribs from every other scrolling arcade shooter on the market, Infinite Dreams’ Sky Force Reloaded is a surprisingly addictive title. The similarities with PlayStation 4 classics like Resogun are apparent from the outset. A pumping synth score and digitised voices congratulating and commiserating ("NICE!", "chain lost"). Vibrant primary colours and particle heavy explosions abound. Meanwhile, the little humans that you rescue let out a comedic yell of victory when picked up.
It would be easy to be cynical and dismiss this as just another throwback, but there's a lot that succeeds here, not least the solid progression system.
With an opening power switcheroo reminiscent of Metroid or Mega Man X, you’re offered a tantalising look at the devastating power of your ship in the opening section. This is promptly stripped from you as the game begins proper, leaving you piloting a ship that feels like it's made of paper with a pea shooter attached to it. It can be a disheartening experience at first, with even the basic enemy types taking a few shots to down and some evading your glacial blaster shots entirely. The ones that escape sting the most, because at the core of Sky Force’s progression is the collection of stars.
Each enemy destroyed spews out stars that, when hoovered up, can be used in between missions to upgrade your ship. There are no lives or continues here -- dying in a mission sends you right back to the main menu. The incremental boosting of your ship's capabilities starts off small: a bit of health here, a boost to your guns there, maybe even treat yourself and get those wing cannons that you always wanted.
The pacing feels satisfying -- you make just enough stars in one attempt to give you the edge on the next run. There’s a genuine sense of accomplishment in finally reaching the end of a stage and defeating whatever mechanical behemoth boss you find there. Stages carry point bonuses for clearing certain objectives -- rescue humans, defeat percentage tiers of enemies -- and it always feels worthwhile to go back to a level once you’ve buffed your ship a bit in order to get full completion.
Much like the aforementioned Mega Man series, the feeling of not only emulating, but surpassing the power witnessed in that opening level feels great.
There’s yet more power to be gained within the stages themselves, however, as glowing enemies drop weapon upgrades that boost your guns above and beyond base damage for the duration of the stage. This adds an extra element of danger to navigating incoming projectiles as you duck and weave to try and grab an upgrade. Human rescues complicate things further, with a small but agonising progression meter that must be filled before you pick them up.
Away from the enjoyment of incremental power creep, the game's quality dips in more fundamental areas. The story feels tacked on, largely played for laughs with its cartoony dialogue panels and action movie cliches. The visuals and audio design, while by no means lacking, don't have any originality or flair. The bright and chunky aesthetic of titles like Graceful Explosion Machine and Super Stardust Ultra set them apart from other examples of the genre. More old school shooters like Sine Mora opt for an industrial sci-fi setting that feels distinct and atmospheric. Sky Force Reloaded is a mish-mash of settings and enemy types from across the genre. This doesn’t take too much away from the core experience, but the lack of a really engaging visual style disappoints.
With a solid progression system that means no defeat has to be too punishing and every attempt gets you a little further, Sky Force Reloaded is a ‘one more try’ shooter. Building up your ship from a pathetic husk to a monstrous killing machine is satisfying and fun, but it’s a slight shame that the game is let down at times by bland environments and all too familiar enemy types.