As a shmup aficionado, The Sky Force games have always sat on the periphery of my awareness. Despite Polish developers Infinite Dreams' origins working on Amiga games, their platform of choice for their flagship shmup series was the iPhone of all things. It seemed foolish, and I initially dismissed the original game as being entirely unsuited to the platform. I was wrong.
Against all odds, the genre flourished. Even Japanese bullet-hell monsters Cave began porting their arcade classics to phones and tablets, and the Sky Force series became one of the better-known mobile shooter franchises. Now, Infinite Dreams have come on home to PC with Sky Force Reloaded, and might just have a thing or two to teach us about accessibility in the genre.
Sky Force Reloaded is an interesting blend of eastern and western shmup design, with some chunky bullet-soaking enemies, but also some interestingly intricate bullet patterns and a relatively unforgiving health system. The closest point of reference I can give would be Grasshopper's Sine Mora, minus some of the visual creativity and soul-rendingly bleak storytelling. Mechanically, it adopts a few traits from the likes of Raiden and 1942, especially the way it handles enemy waves and powerups, and the whole blend is neatly spiced with a very Amiga-styled pseudo-chiptune/tracker soundtrack.
The end result is a very polished, if slightly straightforward shmup. Rather than play the entire campaign in one sitting (it's quite lengthy at 15 levels long), you take on stages individually as you see fit, replaying and mastering them to fulfil achievement requirements, and spend the golden star pickups you accrue on permanent upgrades to your fighter. While this could throw off balance easily, true completion of a level requires zero damage taken and 100% of enemies cleared, which is a difficult feat even with a fully tricked out fighter. Mercifully, even failed runs will give you some more money to pour into your long-term upgrades.
Still, the fact that it offers varying degrees of success for any given level opens this one to a much wider audience. Merely surviving to the end of a level is relatively easy (at least early on) but mastery is encouraged. Perhaps a side-effect of the series' gestation on touchscreen devices, the lower requirements for entry means that the game can turn up the heat more gradually. Even if you've no experience with the genre, you'll be weaving through bullets in no time, assuming a little determination.
Sky Force Reloaded is available now on Steam for £7.19/$10, minus a 10% launch discount.