Get ready to have fun. Get ready to grind.
I am genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed playing Sky Force Reloaded and how I am anxious to continue playing. Historically, I am not someone to play a game that lacks a deep story. Sky Force Reloaded is simply a top-down shoot-‘em-up, complete with everything I wouldn’t like: auto-scrolling, grinding for upgrades, backtracking through levels. I was totally fine with all of these this time around, because they are built into the structure of the game in a fluid manner. They control the pacing, the progression, the enhancements, and are basically the foundation for advancement.
13 levels are present in the campaign, each with four achievements to collect (beat 70% of the enemies, beat 100% of the enemies, rescue the humans, and take no damage). After completing all four, a new difficulty option opens up for that level. Rinse and repeat for a third difficulty option. Just making it through a stage does not mean that you will be able to progress to the next one. They are all locked, and require a certain number of achievements to be unlocked. Think the Star Doors in Super Mario 64. I spent a lot of time playing through the first three levels over and over again, trying to complete the goals in each difficulty. Across all the difficulties, 156 achievements are there to be collected. With just 13 levels, the content is surprisingly deeper and more involved. Outside of that, an online tournament mode is available periodically. I can’t comment on what that looks like because it was unavailable when I played. I did not see an online leaderboard anywhere, which felt like a missed opportunity because of the nature of the genre focusing so much on scores. With grinding for upgrades being a s trong focus, scores mattered more to me, but because there was not a leaderboard, or even a way to share scores with friends, I ended up ignoring the scores. Again, there could be a bit more elaborate scoring system in the online tournament mode. A two-player option is available at all times, for double the fun. Essentially, this is the same game but with a second ship controlled to increase the available amount of firing. Co-op also makes it easier and quicker to advance onward through levels, and obtain upgrades.
Upgrades are the priority in playing. Earned currency can be used to unlock upgrades, which in turn make the harder levels and difficulties less daunting. The weapons vary, including a fair amount of styles, such as missiles, lasers, blasters, bombs, shields, and magnets. It’s all fairly standard for a top-down shooter, but a lot of slots let you customize your loadout. Various temporary perks in the form of cards show up that can increase the number of stars collected in a level, which are huge moments of being high on the addiction because it’s a chance to score big and then clean house in the shop. New ships can be unlocked, too, complete with different stats and more perks.
I didn’t really mind that cycle of playing. The loop is enjoyable, equal to similar actions in games where a grinding leads to nice rewards – whether it be collecting a Power Moon, trading in treasure for cash, or gathering materials. But it’s still so weird to me that I enjoyed this process, because I usually want to move on and see what the new levels are. Instead, I found myself craving the power of upgrading to the point of being able to obliterate the opponents I had previously just been able to bypass. I enjoyed coming back over and over again, to grow stronger and beat my previous records. I didn’t pay attention to the score, but more of the achievements and the number of stars I collected. The achievements have an addicting quality, but in a way that is a little bit less demanding. I listened to podcasts while playing, and found I was able to multitask well; it’s game designed for that kind of experience. I wish there was an endless horde mode, where I could test my skills in survival. Because of the repetitive nature, I quickly began memorizing the patterns of how the enemies would appear on screen, thus making it much easier to combat them. In an endless mode, I could still grind, but also not fall into the trap of going through the same process, over and over.
I had a great experience playing Sky Force Reloaded, and will keep playing it when I want to be doing something on my Switch that isn’t as big of a commitment of an RPG like Xenoblade. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary for the genre, playing it safe in all regards. It has a lot of content in an enjoyable package. The loop of short, quick play sessions is addicting, and an experience I did not expect to have as much fun with as I did.