Sky Force: Reloaded keeps the bullets flying

If I had an extra minute of sleep for every time I said, “Just one more try,” while playing Sky Force: Reloaded, I would have turned into Rip Van Winkle. As it stands, all I got for continuing to play was a severe case of sleep deprivation.

Sky Force: Reloaded does what every great arcade game should: It temps you to play one more level. A vertical shooter in the vein of Raiden and Ikaruga, the latest entry in the Sky Force series sinks its teeth in and won’t let go, challenging players to make their best run while also offering permanent upgrades that let you progress even when you fail a mission. And you will fail.

Starting off with a single plane, Sky Force sends you through a battle field of tanks, stationary artillery, helicopters, planes and, of course, giant boss fights at the end of every level – provided you make it that far. Each enemy brings its own attack patterns and threats, forcing players to learn their dangers or face obliteration.

To counter the threats, your plane comes decked out with a main cannon, powerful wing cannons and homing missiles. Attacking is as simple as holding down a single button and positioning yourself in the right spot to do maximum damage, all the while keeping an eye out for power-ups and glowing enemies that drop an attack-boosting upgrade.

With the chaos of bullets, lasers, missiles and an array of other dangerous fire flying in every direction, levels become chaotic kaleidoscopes of destructive color, with even the most skilled players liable to succumb to the frenzy at some point. But in an effort to reward players for what they’ve accomplished, Sky Force allows you to take your collected upgrade stars from defeated enemies and turn them into improvements that remain after each level.

Everything from your main gun to the range you can collect stars from can be increased, and temporary gadgets are also available for purchase. Each of the three temporary tools are only available for the level you find or purchase them, but their effects can permanently be enhanced through upgrades.

The shield, for instance, blocks all incoming fire for a time but can be improved to last longer. The super laser, on the other hand, can have its damage dramatically increased, and the mega bomb given a wider range. Knowing when to deploy each tool and having the self-control to save them for the prime opportunity is critical to success in some missions.

Sky Force: Reloaded is a game that requires you to replay missions again and again. With one exception, each mission has four objectives: destroy 70 percent of the level’s enemies, destroy 100 percent of the level’s enemies, rescue everyone in the mission, and remain untouched.

Rescuing everyone is as simple as hovering over the stranded pilot for three seconds (or one with a special plane), and provided you get everyone, surviving to the end of the mission isn’t necessary. The same is true for destroying 70 percent of enemies.

Upon completing the four objectives in each level, the “hard” difficulty unlocks with the same objectives, and then “insane” after that. After completing all of the insane difficulty challenges on a level and beating the final boss, “nightmare” unlocks – and it’s aptly named.

While plowing through the different levels and difficulty modes, you’ll randomly come across cards and ship parts. Cards can be temporary or permanent boosts to your ship, with temporary ones lasting 15 minutes from the time you complete the level. Ship parts, meanwhile, give you a piece of a new ship, which unlocks once you find all of its parts.

Once you’ve picked up a card or ship part, you can’t pick up another of either in the level. What’s more, dying means you lose everything you were carrying, creating an added tension once you find one of them. Picking them up on levels with a particularly difficult boss was always a tension-filled experience because the drops can be difficult to find at times.

Then again, fighting any of the game’s bosses is a challenge even without an unlock riding on the line. For as challenging as some of the levels can be, getting to the end and facing down a tank with homing missiles, lasers and cannons all firing at once borders on the absurd. For that same reason, destroying it feels that much more satisfying.

That satisfaction plays out in glorious, bright detail because of Sky Force’s excellent graphics. The vivid colors match up with creative level designs, bringing the war-ravaged ground and sky to life as enemies, towers and structures rend apart from your guns. Clever enemy designs, different types of attacks and unique bosses add to the game’s novelty by throwing unexpected surprises your way each time they appear.

But where the graphics offer something new each time the screen scrolls upward, the sounds are firmly rooted in arcade nostalgia. It’s something that subtly ties back to Sky Force’s roots, and it’s a great little nod to its predecessors.

With so much to unlock, frenetic action, outstanding graphics and a $10 price point, there’s a lot to love about Sky Force: Reloaded. There’s also the potential for a lot of lost sleep because the game hits the arcade nostalgia button over and over.

Sky Force: Reloaded earns 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5.

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