It's a bit embarrassing for a birthday hero to be late of his own party. The vertical shoot'em up Sky Force was originally released for Symbian-operated smartphones in 2004. The game got two sequels, the latest was released in 2014 for modern smartphones. It's this "anniversary" version that was released in 2016 for home consoles. .
Sky Force Anniversary resembles franchises like Capcom's 1942 and Taito's Raiden but is considerably more slower to play. Navigating through an enemy bullet storm takes more caution than pure reflexes, likely due to the game's originating on a smartphone. Anything more hectic would have been too clumsy to poke around on a touch screen. Another noticeable difference from the genre is the lack of collectible power-ups and upgrades. Instead, they can be purchased in between stages which can lead to some heavy duty grinding.
There are nine levels to play that are progressively unlocked with gold medals earned by fulfilling four goals of each stage: 70% and 100% of enemies killed, all civilians rescued and taking no damage. These goals are mostly impossible to do without upgrading the ship weapons and durability. Upgrades are purchased with stars collected from the downed enemies. That's pretty much the main game loop: play stages over and over again to gain enough stars to get enough firepower to achieve the gold medal goals.
For a single player campaign this vicious circle is an exercise in tediousness. The too similar levels aren't particularly engaging so you'll get bored and question the philosophy behind the game's structure. Wouldn't it be nice just to have continuous stages, collect power ups along the way and blast away, like we did in the good old days? That's again because of Sky Force's free-to-play and pay-to-win smartphone origins. It was built around the microtransactions to skip the grind but in the console versions there are no purchasable shortcuts.
With the two players local co-op it's a whole different game though. The motivation is lit up again when you have a friend to spend the grinding time with. It's almost fun to keep blasting the enemy waves to bits and harvest stars and upgrade the destructive powers to meet those elusive gold medal goals. There are still some problems, though. The player ships are too similar, the one is red and the other purple. It's deceptively easy to mix them up, especially if the other player is making similar movements as you, thus making no damage gold medal relatively hard to attain as the both ships need to be unscratched. The other ship should have been of completely different shape and color.
Sky Force Anniversary is a polished and slick shoot 'em up but for a solo player it's more miss than a hit. It's really nothing special and there are more flashy games in the same genre available. If you have a friend to play the local co-op with the Sky Force Anniversary is more rewarding experience. Still I would have preferred the classic way of doing shooters instead of a grind festival which makes more sense in the mobile market due to the micro transactions easing up the way for the more impatient players.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.