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It seems fitting that iconic vertical shoot em up 1942 is celebrating its 30-year anniversary this year. The influential World War II themed fighter plane game spawned plenty of sequels and imitators, and Sky Force 2014 plays like a worthy tribute to the golden age of aviation-themed shoot em ups.

The chronologically fluid Sky Force 2014 features 1940s style planes as well as modern missile helicopters, seemingly Vietnam-era gunboats, and the protagonist's plane, which looks like something out of a sci-fi shooter. Some steampunk mechs wouldn't be totally out of place. But don't discount it as just a copycat--Sky Force 2014 stands out well on its own:

Twists on the formula: The graphics are top-notch, with brilliant colored explosions, nice cloud effects and several different types of land and sea environments (though the first levels do play similarly). The controls handle fairly well, allowing the player to drag their finger across the touchscreen with relative precision.

One nice addition to the formula is that instead of allowing the player to do a loop-de-loop (a la 1942), you can slow down time by simply lifting your finger off the screen. This comes in real handy when there are a number of enemy craft on the screen and the pace is getting to you. But don't think this makes the game easy: Even seasoned veterans of the genre can expect hours of gameplay just unlocking the first few levels.

Bullet Hell-ish: The similarities between 1942 and Sky Force 2014 extend not only to aesthetics, but gameplay as well. The first enemy formations are a series of Japanese Zero style fighters that give way to larger bombers and finally cruisers and battle ships.

Though it's a vertical shooter that starts off with only a few enemy formations, the game quickly escalates into a Bullet Hell level of intensity with dozens of enemy ships, planes, helicopters, and bullets flying at you. You'll also want to keep an eye on hostages to rescue, upgrades to find, stars to collect, and the constant threat of a kamikaze attack. This makes the margin for error exceptionally thin--even though you can survive a few hits from enemy projectiles, a single collision will spell "game over." So even the most skilled players in the shoot em up genre can expect to die with frequency.

Upgrade system: An aspect of Sky Force 2014 that makes the repetition of replaying levels somewhat more endurable is the star upgrade system. Each enemy's demise releases stars, which can be collected and then used to upgrade your weapons and health. Also, in a nod to classic shoot em ups like Contra, certain enemies will drop winged weapon upgrades mid-mission, which will increase your rate of fire for the duration of that life.

So, while it can be exceptionally frustrating to finally make it to the battleship at the end of the level only to explode in a fiery wreck, take solace in all of the stars that you have collected, making your plane that much more likely to survive the next round. Of course, a lot of the best weapons cost a great deal of stars (upwards of 2000) so you'll need to patient with the game and be prepared to grind through the first few hours.

There is a dearth of strong shoot em ups on iOS, able to give players both great graphics and nimble controls. Sky Force 2014 is that rare game, and with an upgrade system that ensures replayability and a payment system that doesn't require you to shell out real money to get better in a hurry, players can look forward to hours of challenging, frenetic combat.

Developer: Infinite DreamsPlatform: iOS (Universal), Android (Universal)Price:Free