Sky: Children of the Light was at the top of my list for “things I need to play this year” when the pre-order option came. A mobile game from the makers of Journey, Sky looks and feels very much like a cross between a Pixar and Studio Ghibli film. In it you play a cape-wielding, iridescent hero who goes around collecting spirits in a beautiful-yet-desolate world.
“I’m trying to make something like a Pixar movie,” Jenova Chen, co-founder of thatgamecompany, said in an interview with Polygon. “Something for the family to play together.”
Because of the thought put into this concept—on a mobile platform, no less—I was very excited about the finished product. I was as primed as I could ever be. Unfortunately I didn’t love Sky nearly as much as I’d hoped for, and while I waited a bit longer to see if these issues would be tweaked with bug fixes, they’re still there.
As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a mismatch between the game’s control system and my own personal preferences.
Way back in the day—we’re talking 2005—there was a game released to PS2 called Shadow of the Colossus. In it, a young hero called Wander travels through a desolate open world looking for titans. Just like in Sky, you have to traverse a somewhat empty landscape. Shadow was a feat of aesthetics and innovation in terms of boss battles, and I would argue that Sky is channeling the aesthetics of this prior game, too, albeit subconsciously. When I first opened up the app, I was so excited to see a mobile game that was reminiscent of my old-time-favorites that I was practically salivating at the mouth.
Sky’s sound design is exquisite and works best on headphones. The world that your character runs through is not entirely “desolate”, but not without a lingering stillness, as well. In some ways, it also reminds me of Angel’s Egg: a post-apocalyptic anime where the disaster has long since passed and all that’s left is grass and ruined structures.
Equally impressive and admirable is Sky’s non-violent storyline, where you aim to restore a series of spirits through exploration and puzzle hunting, assisted by additional players. The current real-world political climate has been weighing heavy on me, and I’ve been seeking out a lot of non-violent games to offset it. It’s a shift in my perspective, I think, on my own understanding of death as permeance.
So Sky had everything going for it. It really did. And because I was so primed for this game I’m much more forgiving of it than I would normally be: perhaps foolishly so. I want to make allowances for it.
Unfortunately its controls, which have been advertised as innate and perceptive, are extremely clunky. This was a feature that bedevilled the aforementioned Colossus, too.
At first I thought that I was just a slow learner when it came to managing the controls. I didn’t really see anyone else trashing Sky for it, and figured that it was just me. As the issue persisted, I wondered if it was a bug that the developers were aiming to fix. I wanted to give them a wider time allowance.
After a couple weeks, however, I came to accept that the minimal interface is part of Sky’s design. In an effort to blend it into the aesthetics of the game as seamlessly as possible, they’ve sacrificed a lot of accessibility. On a personal level I want ease-of-use first and aesthetic second, otherwise I can’t find time to enjoy the story. Even now I sort of struggle with basic functions, and I spend more time trying to steer my characters around the landscape than playing the game itself.
In this unfortunate way, Sky is Shadow’s successor yet again: a beautiful game marred by clunky controls.
One really interesting thing to note is that this game is very similar in its visuals to The Crumbling Prince: an escape room run by Ukiyo in Melbourne, Australia. I’m a huge fan of Ukiyo’s work, so if you’re looking to check out some cool things to do in Melbourne, read our review of The Crumbling Prince Part 1 and Part 2. It’s like playing Sky, but instead you’re living it out in real life.
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