Nostalgia is a really powerful feeling. Most of the people I know of my age who play videogames experience it from their favourite medium as soon as we hear or see something from our past; the opening notes from the title screen music from The Legend of Zelda for instance immediately turn me into an eight year old, sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Miami apartment and losing myself in a TV screen. It's 1987, Steve Winwood is on the radio (Y-100!). The air is humid...
But I digress. It's not that often though that a new(ish) game can elicit something close to that feeling though - so imagine my surprise when I found myself experiencing it while playing a game that has no links with my childhood.
Sky Force Anniversary feels like a game from another age, a vestigial organ that by some freak twist of evolution has suddenly found itself needed again. I've been playing it on and off for a couple of years - firing it up late last week I was reminded of how much I like it, and was surprised to find that I'd never mentioned it on here before. It's a top-down shooter, and it's gorgeous - and it's the game I see when I put my rose-tinted spectacles and think back to the main arcade game experience of my youth.
Saturday nights would regularly be spent in our local sports and social club - the perennial British hangout of the working class, and the middle class who like to pretend they're still working class. Evenings there would consist of Coke in a bottle, consumed through a paper straw that would dissolve into the liquid if left alone for long enough, and smokey bacon flavoured Wheat Crunchies. The air was filled with the lull of adult conversation, and the smell of beer and cigarettes. It was here that I learned about the rule of placing your 10p coin on the arcade machine to secure your turn on it, and how to rack up the pool balls in the correct order. My parents were there to socialise. My brother and I? We were there to play videogames.
That arcade machine was normally home to some kind of top-down shooter. I remember Commando being there, and 1942 appeared at some point as well - and then a slew of sci-fi styled cabinets. It's these that Sky Force Anniversary reminds me of so strongly.
There's more to it than there was to those top-down shooters of yesteryear - exactly as you'd expect. While those games existed for the sole purpose of hoovering up the 10p coins of scruffy kids like myself, this one comes with all the 21st Century trimmings you'd expect. There's a meta game involving running levels multiple times to level up a ship. There's a risk/reward mechanic, and rewards for running each mission multiple times and concentrating on different objectives each time - whether it's destroying EVERYTHING, or rescuing all the downed pilots, or not being hit by a single enemy craft or bullet. When you reach the point of playing the levels on the highest "Insane" difficulty, an understanding of that meta-game becomes essential. In spite of all of these modern touches though, Sky Force Anniversary still feels like a time machine. It looks beautiful and offers a wonderfully smooth experience - it's the game you remember all those arcade machines being like. It takes ideas from all of them, with screen filling bosses and bullet hell moments - and those different mission objectives mix the gameplay emphasis up enough to keep it feeling engaging from start to finish.
So, here we are. If you're locked inside because of coronavirus and you're looking for something that might make you feel like a kid again, even for a couple of minutes, I'd highly recommend downloading this one and taking a look. What starts off as a "oh, I'll have a quick go at this" can quickly become "if I buy these two upgrades at the start of this level, these craft will give me this other one and then I'll be able to smash my way through this insane level," and that progression happens almost seamlessly. Those kids standing in front of that arcade cab would absolutely lose their shit if they could see this.