Sky Force Reloaded

Posted by Dan Mousavi On June - 5 - 2010

Shoot ‘em ups have a long history on handhelds and mobile devices, they have grown a lot since Solar Striker captured the hearts of millions of Game boy Players 20 years ago. Recently Cave, the No. 1 developer in the modern bullet hell segment of the genre, made a big splash on Iphone with Espgaluda II, which came to the platform 2 months after the console port for Xbox 360. The media uptake and gamers feedback on message boards showed that there are still thousands of gamers, that crave for a great shmup on mobile phones. But until they start to develop for Android (which they’ll maybe do, according to Yukihiro Masaki) we have another top notch game by the polish developer Infinite Dreams, that’ll keep us busy until the big guns arrive and there is one thing, that Sky Force Reloaded has, that even trumps Cave’s outing and makes it the best mobile shooter on all platforms. One word, Control.

Origins:


Sky Force Reloaded is the follow up to the game Sky Force and was originally a Series60v3 game and one of the best in 2006. It received rave reviews and I personally still carry it on my N73 today, because it is one of the most beautiful games available. The game got ported to the Iphone in 2009 and was received well for being a real arcade shooter experience instead of all the wonky tech demos that were afloat on the platform at that time. Sky Force (the first one) was released on Android around Christmas and for a while no one cared. Last month, the developer posted over at Androidforums and after hearing our concerns, he revamped the controls on Sky Force before releasing Sky Force Reloaded.

The game:

Sky Force is your typical top down scrolling shoot ‘em up, the goal is to destroy a certain percentage in the level to advance to the next one. You score points along the way by shooting down complete formations, collecting stars and humans on the ground and at the end of the level you get bonus points for accuracy and destruction percentage. When you destroy certain things on the ground or defeat certain squadrons, an emblem appears that upgrades your shot or gives you a powerful laser or a rocket add-on. This is very important, because the power of your shot determines how fast you can take an enemy down and without going after these special squadrons or boxes, you won’t be powerful enough to destroy the asked percentage. When you die, you can restart the game at the highest level you reached, but on medium and hard you will have the minimum arsenal to finish the level, but you’ll get more upgrades in the level itself. It really is better to just play this game on score and start in level 1 again, because that’s the way it was intended. There are 8 levels and every level has a boss fight at the end, even if some cop out with placing the boss from a previous level multiple times. The bosses make a huge chunk on your destruction percentage and if you don’t hurry, they will disappear and you probably won’t have enough percentage to advance to the next level, in which case the current level starts again. The squad formations and item placement in the levels are thought out well, you get into the groove of the game and learn the patterns pretty fast, but even if you know them all, you always try to reach across the screen to capture a few more extra points with another human or another star. It really has everything, that makes these type of game on home consoles and arcades without making a compromise for mobile gameplay. And that exactly was the breaking point for me on my N73. I played with it so much, that the stick got unresponsive and even before that, playing with a little 4-way stick was way to stiff to fully enjoy this game, so it served more as a graphic demo and I never finished it. 4 years later, I am here to tell you, that Sky Force Reloaded received it’s salvation on Android and I’ll show you why.

Controls:

Since I got my Nexus One in January I was fascinated by the trackball. As a previous heavy Nokia user I always ogled at the beautiful trackballs in the business Blackberry devices. They are really great for precision control and while you won’t need it as much on a touchscreen device, it complements it really well, when you have to navigate precisely, e.g. when correcting a text file, selecting little click spots in the browser, or navigating a ship through a bullet storm. It does not fare well as a D-Pad surrogate, because you can’t keep it pressed, but if a game utilizes what a trackball can gain them, the controls are unrivaled. I dare to say Sky Force Reloaded with trackball and touch gives me more precision then any other control mechanism available. I have build my own arcade sticks for Cave’s new Xbox360 games with the best arcade parts on the planet, from the best Sanwa Sticks to Happ’s Perfect 360, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars to find the perfect control input for Street Fighter and shmups and after years of importing sticks that gave me minimal advantages, playing with touchscreen and trackball feels like the perfect match for this whole genre.

The rest:
The sound of the game is also worth mentioning, when you start the game, a deep bass directly builds tension, it got me pumping 4 years ago and it still does. The tunes are really catchy melodies that complement the game well. The sprites are small and look very pixelated, but that is acceptable, since we are talking about a port. If these kinds of games get natively developed for Android, they will have to deliver a significant improvement, but for now it has to suffice. There were some problems with the first releases of the games, it didn’t save properly and when you multitasked, the game force closed. This was a really big problem because when you use the trackball on the Nexus One and slide to much upwards, you press the home button by accident and that will happen often in the heat of the battle. This is not the fault of the game, but with recent updates, where the game pauses now instead of force closing, the devs tried their best to compensate for it.

Some things still could get improved, it would be nice if I could unpause the game by a trackball press, so I don’t need to cover the screen with my other hand or lose control while unpausing. Also the menu is unresponsive and most people will miss the next button to choose the difficulty and ship. I also really wish there would be some sort of worldwide highscore list or Scoreloop integration and having replays of top players like on consoles would also be a dream, that hopefully gets fulfilled by future games in this genre on mobile. But all in all Sky Force Reloaded (as well as it’s uglier older brother Sky Force) is still the best shmup that we have today and even if I compare it to the other hot handheld offerings, it can hold its ground against the best NDS shmup Nanostray 2 and the best Iphone shmup Espgaluda II simply by offering a better control option with the trackball. If you have ever enjoyed any shoot ‘em up and own a Android device with a trackball, you need to check out a Sky Force game to experience how great it can be for gaming controls.

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