When you launch Sky: Children of the Light, numerous messages appear on the screen as it loads. Messages are informing you about server connections, receiving in-game currencies, and the like are common in games with an online focus. Still, there is one short message that feels uniquely descriptive of Thatgamecompany’s fourth title, “Finding New Friends.” This is our Sky: Children Of The Light Review.
It’s just a simple statement that you’re connected to other players in this connected universe, but it’s also a message of what Sky is really about. While it mimics many of the gameplay elements from Journey, it’s Sky’s evolution of those ideas that make it a fascinating multiplayer experiment with deeply meditative qualities.
Sky: Children Of The Light Review: About
- Platform: Android, Nintendo Switch, iOS
- Developer: Thatgamecompany
- Publisher: Thatgamecompany
- Genres: Adventure game, Art game
- Release Date: July 18, 2019
Sky: Children Of The Light Review: Gameplay
Playing Sky is incredibly similar to Journey. You control a dressed figure, recognizable as a small child, and navigate a series of low environments connected only by the constellations of the stars they share above. Sky keeps things simple by letting you navigate the situations and holding a single button to soar and flee. The flight is central to Sky’s otherwise simple mechanics, allowing you to execute delicate maneuvers through the clouds or glide subtly between the remains of mysterious ruins.
Expressive yet subtle animations make every movement in the air feel lovely, even if you don’t do much more than determining your direction. If you only dive into the clouds to tilt up at the last minute, you will be rewarded with a cute pirouette, for example, by letting the wind flood your robe and shape it accurately in the wind. Flying draws light from your robe, which limits the air freedom you have. Every light source receives light you come across, and it is your job to take it out in turn.
You sail with candles around the light and use them to spread fire to unlit lanterns and shrines. You can use light to burn away corrupted vegetation or to chase dangerous animals that attack you in the dark. Glowing faceless kids are scattered across every new area you explore, giving you wings that help you improve the amount of light you can store at once, helping you fly longer. You can lose wings when you are not carrying the torch and take damage from enemies or environmental hazards, although you can easily pick them up again.
Sky doesn’t feel punished at any point, but it uses these gentle nudges to remind you how great it feels to have an abundance of flight at your fingertips and what it could be like to lose it again. Gathering light is beneficial to move, which in turn allows you to discover lost spirits that determine the central progression in Sky. Each area has a constellation that you slowly complete by rescuing lost souls and returning to the sky above. Most of these are simple exploration puzzles.
By sniffing around diligently, you’ll find blue outlines of long-forgotten creatures, each creating breadcrumbs to follow that tells a short story of the ghost it leads to. These are moments frozen in time and telling vague stories that can range from humorous to tragic. It’s exciting to see a sketch of two clumsy creatures trying to move objects much more significant than them from one room to another, and equally sober to see another in fear, mourning a Painful loss.
Sky: Children Of The Light Review story is intentionally vague, so you fill in the blanks, interpret what purpose light serves in its world, and why its sacrifice makes sense. The Sky is playable all by yourself, and you don’t have to find a set number of spirits to finish it. But it’s also a game that focuses on sharing your experiences with strangers. You are not a unique figure in his world and certainly not the only one who carries light until the end. Instead, your journey is regularly filled with other players, each on their adventure that you can join for a moment or two.
You can contribute in small ways. A passing player can light their candle in front of you to light it, so you can take turns to supplement their light if you choose. To befriend another player, you have to share a candle with them, permanently connect the two of you and add them to your friend’s list. You never see the names of these players; instead, you name them based on your interactions with them. It feels like you’re meeting someone new for the first time, but can’t talk to him right away.
You can use taps to play audio pings to gather other players around you, but you can also sit on a bench, wait for another player to sit next to you, and join a more direct text-based conversation if you choose. The most exciting way to communicate with other players is with emotes, which are unlocked with every new spirit you release. You can use these emotes to express yourself to other players, from a pure wave or a point in one direction to more intimate expressions of kind affection, such as hugs.
There are also separate emotes and actions that you can unlock by increasing your friendship with other players. Rewarding each other with consumable candles unlocks unique skills (which can also only be used between the two of you) that can change the way you navigate each area. My favorite was the ability to form long chains of players by holding each other’s hands, with one player leading the group to new places while everyone used the collective light to fuel the flight.
This also assists new players to see areas they may not be able to reach yet, giving Sky a cooperative nature that is remarkably easy to deal with. This simplicity helps some of Sky’s more challenging puzzles, requiring multiplayer collaboration – anything between a single pair and a full group of eight. For example, some doors need two players to light urns simultaneously to open. In other more demanding challenges, up to eight players must gather around an octagon and light old runes in a specific order.
While these challenges are rarely hard to decipher, and finding enough players to join was never a problem in my time with the game, trying to get everyone started on more group-focused tasks was a bit frustrating. Since none of these puzzles are required to pass through Sky, they are easily overlooked. Sky also weaves its focus on forming friendships into its microtransaction model, which changes the rules of what you’re used to from these systems in a big way.
Hearts are used to buy cosmetic items, but you can’t just buy them. Instead, you can purchase candles, which can then be packaged and sent to a friend like a heart. This is the only way to earn hearts, which means that you have to depend on the graceful gifts from friends you made in Sky to equip yourself in beautiful new clothes. There are also options to purchase seasonal passes that unlock easier daily quests and a few expensive clothes.
Still, for the most part, you’re focused on forming new bonds with strangers and regularly exchanging gifts with them if you invest in visually noticing everyone else. This means that you will likely play Sky well after the credits roll on your first playthrough, which can take anywhere from four to six hours. You can collect ghosts that you probably missed, especially since some of them are not even accessible without having played later in the game. You will also need to regain your wings before the flight, for story reasons you learn during the final.
All of this means that you will revisit many areas that you have gone through at least once before, which can remove some of the splendor you experienced the first time. This is especially true when you break from their intended flow to snoop around the area, looking for tiny crevices you missed the first time. This feels like it goes against the natural harmony of Sky’s intended path, indicated by simple nudges pointing you in the right direction. If you only focus on completion, Sky just isn’t all that attractive.
Still, there is a meditative quality to visit when you are just looking for a short escape. Your first flights through a temple in the sky or the fast sprint you have to make between the canopies of giant mushrooms in a rain-soaked forest are delicious the first time. Their mixes of stunningly detailed environments and suitable uplifting music are impressive, and less so when you run around in circles to see if there was a little crack, you forgot to explore.
Sky: Children Of The Light Review: Conclusion
The Sky: Children Of The Light Review is different from everything the gaming company has ever made before, but it is also a smart evolution of what makes its games unique. It’s easy to play while feeling incredible at the same time, making flying exciting every time your feet leave the ground. It also offers a fascinating twist on in-game purchases, locking the most attractive rewards behind making friends, and making a positive enough impression on them.
That means you have to play a lot of Sky to end up working on what you want, which takes a life out of the beautiful vignettes you can freely explore. But it is no less memorable for the ideas it presents or calms in the way it gives you the freedom to chase them, making it another trip worth checking out.
While it mimics many of the gameplay elements from Journey, it’s Sky’s evolution of those ideas that make it a fascinating multiplayer experiment with deeply meditative qualities.