Are you brimming with patience and empathy? Neither’s likely at the forefront of your mind when playing games, which still mostly tend towards gritty grimness and you going PEW PEW PEW. But with Sky: Children of the Light, you’ll need them both – in spades.
In this relatively free-roaming adventure, with a smattering of puzzling and a dollop of social multiplayer, you’re one of the titular children, locating spirits and returning them to the stars. You find yourself in lush landscapes to explore at leisure, and regularly take to the air by way of a magic cape.
In short, there’s a lot of poking around caves, sliding down hills on your feet, unceremoniously crashing into hillsides like a drunk sparrow, and staring slack-jawed at how something this achingly beautiful exists on a phone.
Reach for the sky
There’s little hand-holding. A tutorial of sorts leads you through the basics, but then you’re on your own. Well, not quite on your own, but I’ll get to that in a bit. What I mean is Sky is in no hurry to tell you what’s going on.
You’ll grasp the basics – the importance of lighting candles; your ability to fly being limited by stored winged light. You’ll recognise that in the blazing sun of the first area’s grassy hillsides, light storage isn’t an issue, but it is a problem in – for example – the pouring rain of the dank, gloomy Hidden Forest. Any backstory is mostly inferred rather than explained.
Controls-wise, the game does as well as can be expected: left thumb to move; right to shift viewpoint; tap to interact. On the ground, you’ll be a smug surfer; in the air, a klutz. You get used to it.
The social element, though, sets Sky apart from broadly comparable mobile adventures. As you dodder about, figuring out how the world works, others do the same. Frequently, you happen upon roadblocks you cannot cross alone.
There’s little direct communication beyond the odd chat area where you type like a human. Mostly, you use minimal gestures triggered by a prod, or tap your character to call others to your aid. You get a decent range of gestures, but most people leap and run about, parping until everyone in the vicinity gets the message.
Now and again, Sky’s social elements also deliver a sucker punch to the feels: that moment when you make a first in-game friend, and the children light up in delight; or when someone grabs your hand and sweeps you into the sky. It’s like watching magical children play.
Sky’s the limit
There are echoes of thatgamecompany’s Journey here – but on mobile there’s nothing else like Sky. However, I did get regular whiffs of Flower, too – and not always sweet ones.
Alongside many moments of free-flowing joy, there are clunky reminders you’re playing a game. The illusion of an open world is hit by abrupt area boundaries like treelines you can’t move past. And that traditionalist need to collect a requisite number of items to progress seems at odds with Sky’s desire to be something different.
This came to a head when I left the game running while my iPhone charged. The blissful audio continued to play, while my in-game character had a nap in the grass. But later that day, launching the game after doing something else, everything resumed from a home zone. It took time to figure out where I was – and where I’d previously got to. Even when deep into levels, unless you’ve a cartographer’s brain it’s easy to get frustrated.
In all then, Sky is a mobile game you can easily lose yourself in – but in more ways than one.