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We’ve been hearing for years that thatgamecompany was working on a mobile exclusive called Sky, but now it’s finally here. Sky: Children of the Light is a game about flying around with others and restoring light to the world. Although the game is an incredibly impressive audio/visual experience, its controls are so spotty it’s hard to want to spend a whole lot of time exploring it.
Light it up
Sky is probably best described as a puzzle platformer. You play as a child tasked with wandering environments to light candles and recover fallen stars to return them to the night sky. To help you navigate these spaces, you’re equipped with a cape that grants you the ability to fly.
In any given level, there are a few things you can look for. There are stars (represented by glowing silhouettes), wing upgrades (represented by luminescent children), and candles to light. Some of these candles give you a kind of currency, but there are white candles at a shrine at the end of levels that activates a cinematic and can lead you to the next environment to explore.
If all this sounds a little confusing or underexplained, that’s because it kind of is. Sky is a minimalist game that doesn’t deliver its narrative using words, and it only barely explains its systems. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and discovery, which seems to be the house style for thatgamecompany games.
Also part of their house style is its aesthetic. Sky is an absolutely gorgeous game. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to thinking of a mobile game as a technical marvel, even compared to other game platforms with much more powerful hardware. This is paired with an equally incredible soundtrack that is evocative and compliments the visuals perfectly.
The final piece of thatgamecompany’s signature style in Sky is its multiplayer system, which operates much like it did in Journey. As you wander around in this game, other players appear in your world, and you can become friends with them, follow each other, or even solve collaborative puzzles in the world. In Sky though, multiplayer is a little strange. Many different players can join you on any given level and even solve puzzles for you, meaning you might walk into an environment and half of all the things you need to do are already done, which can be a little confusing and sometimes disappointing.
I’m blown away at just about everything Sky is able to accomplish using mobile hardware. My only hangup with the game though is its controls, and—I must say—this is a pretty huge problem. Sky uses pretty standard virtual controls for a third-person platformer, but they feel really swimmy and loose so you never really feel like you have full control of your character.
This isn’t a huge problem while you’re on the ground, but once airborne, it’s super frustrating. You’ll fly headlong into clouds you don’t mean to, which will eject you out on some crazy path and you won’t know where you are. From there, you just have to hope you can steer yourself in the right direction before hitting a cloudbank again. Landing is similarly tough to control. Your character prefers to slide to a stop when landing, meaning you can fall off platforms you mean to land on with irritating regularity.
To be fair, Sky isn’t exactly the most demanding or fast-paced game, so it’s not like there are big penalties for falling off things or going places you don’t mean to. That said, it’s hard to enjoy exploring Sky’s beautiful world when I feel like I’m fighting the controls every step of the way.
The bottom line
I can’t even begin to imagine how Sky was made. It’s ultra-smooth visuals and seamless multiplayer feel like they can’t work on a mobile device, yet they do. This is indeed an achievement, and I cannot deny that. Once I start playing it though, it feels like I’m smearing a painting. Everything is so beautifully composed, and then I come along to fly into a wall or get hung up on a ledge. This happens so frequently that I don’t really like spending time in Sky, which is a real shame.