I don’t tend to play iPad games for very long unless I’ve volunteered to review them. I tend to feel compelled to play just so my coverage is more comprehensive. Sky Force 2014 is one of those rare cases where “business as usual” has been flipped on its head. This game is so good that I feel I have to talk about it.
Sky Force functions like a lot of top-down “bullet hell” shooters: you weave your plane in and out of enemy fire while firing your own salvos back. Some stages end in boss fights, while others just throw waves of enemies at you.
This all sounds very vanilla, but it’s executed very well. The touch controls are surprisingly tight, which is great, since top-down shooters like Sky Force require fine-grained controls in order to play properly. The game offers the option of tapping on the screen to move your plane, or sliding your finger and having your plane trace a similar path. One other nice touch is what happens when you take your finger off the screen: everything in the game slows down to a crawl. This isn’t in lieu of a pause button (that’s in the top right corner), but rather for taking a moment to see how much is on screen and how you could weave your way through it. I love this feature.
The graphics and animations are also gorgeous, with great colourful explosions that really bring the battlefield to life. I’ve played a good 40+ rounds of the game, and I’m still not tired of how it looks. However, Sky Force would not have held my attention if it weren’t for the well executed upgrade system. Enemies will drop stars upon their death, and these stars act as a form of in-game currency to upgrade your ship’s health and basic weapons, and they’ll also allow you to purchase more advanced toys down the line. Levels can be replayed at will, and completing a level’s achivements will unlock a new type of difficulty, which reaps rewards at a greater rate.
It’s at this point that I should mention that Sky Force is freemium title, meaning that I didn’t have to pay anything to play as much as I have thus far. I normally despise free-to-play (F2P) titles like this because I think they can bleed users of their time, if not also their money, by introducing a great gameplay element and then diluting the living hell out of it. However, as a coworker mentioned to me, that’s only in the cases of bad freemium titles. Sky Force is an example of freemium done right.
You can spend $1 to buy 5000 stars, $2 to earn double the stars all the time, $2 to get rid of ads (which aren’t intrusive at all), and $2 to regenerate lives faster. As I mentioned earlier, you’ve got to use stars to buy upgrades, but you’re also encouraged to use those same stars to hurry those upgrades along. That’s because each upgrade you buy has an “install” timer associated with it — and mine now tend to run upwards of 14 minutes. This is where most freemium games get you, because the little taste of gameplay you got to enjoy is suddenly stopped by several minutes, hours, or days of waiting before you can enjoy your rewards. Fortunately, I haven’t yet felt the need to buy stars, since Sky Force is pretty generous about rewarding them. It is definitely a grind for in-game currency, but it’s a grind that I’m enjoying because the gameplay is so good.
Sky Force really came as quite a surprise to me. I almost never play iPad titles for very long, and I tend to stay very far away from freemium titles, but Sky Force is a notable — no, a wonderful — exception. If you’re hungry for your next action title on the iPad, I highly recommend it.