[Editor’s Note: Sky: Children of the Light might be new to the Switch but the game was originally released on the iPhone in 2019. Now that it’s on consoles, we felt it it appropriate to give it a new review.]
Compared to its predecessors, Sky has flown under the radar. It’s made by indie developer Thatgamecompany, the creators of famous titles like Flow, Flower, and Journey.
What is Sky: Children of the Light?
Sky takes most of its cues from the last of these. It’s a “social” adventure game where you play as a child traversing the many worlds of a once-giant kingdom, finding stories of old spirits and relighting the candles at various elder temples. The most notable thing about the game is its flight mechanic—Sky is a world in the clouds, and you can soar from place to place as you traverse its seven realms.
While you travel, you’ll encounter other players, much like you did in Journey, but the social elements are more important than they were in that game. You can work together to complete tasks, and some extras actually require more than one player. They’ve added tons of emotes and abilities that take advantage of this emphasis.
Anyone who’s played Journey will find themselves on familiar ground. The idea, premise, and even the movement carries over, making Sky feel like a natural spiritual successor.
Varied, Beautiful Environments
One of the best things about Sky, compared to Journey, is the difference in terrain. While Journey did have variations, you were mostly in an arid landscape. In Sky, there are mushroom-filled swamps, beautiful high plains, deserts, and valleys. There’s much more variety than there was in Journey… without ever feeling like anything’s been half-done.
What’s more, each of these environments is gorgeous. Knowing that this was a mobile-first game, I’m astonished at how beautiful it is. At times, you’re tempted to just sit back and enjoy the view.
Flight—Fun, but with Some Problems
For the most part, the flying in Sky is a wild amount of fun. You have two flight modes: one that hovers, and another that soars. The second one really feels like flight, in all its glory. It’s an incredible amount of fun, and you’ll likely find yourself doing tricks and spinning around just to enjoy the sensation.
But that freedom is inconsistent. When you’re in more gamified areas, your character feels heavier. You can’t soar like you did before. As a result, the transition can be jarring, and it can take a minute to get used to a new area.
Social Mechanics—Great Intention, Uneven Execution
Sky is meant to be a game that connects people, much like Death Stranding. I respect that intention. You could argue that Sky accomplishes this. It’s fun to soar with people and guide them around. The problem is that you don’t have a choice in the matter. While that wouldn’t be a big deal if the people were just hanging around and chatting, problems arise when they can help you finish objectives or you need them to access certain areas.
I’ll admit that I’m generally against locking anything behind a minimum-player limit. There are many extras in Sky that require having another player with you to unlock. More frustrating is the fact that, sometimes, other players—people you didn’t invite—can finish objectives and get the level moving before you’ve even gotten your bearings.
In the second area of the game, you need to get some bells ringing to summon gorgeous flying stingray-type creatures. I was in the middle of chasing down a spirit when other players finished that task. One stingray drifted too close to me and literally dragged me away from the spirit quest before I could finish.
This mechanic takes control out of the hands of the players (a topic we return to below). For novice gamers, this might be part of the charm, but for those who really want to enjoy the whole game, it’s frustrating. Luckily, it didn’t seem like there were many areas where this problem was quite so severe.
Leading You by the Nose
The next issue probably comes from the game’s roots in the mobile realm. There are times when your character feels like it’s moving on its own. You walk in one direction, and it takes a sharp turn and hops up a ledge, because that would be the fastest way there. In a mobile game, this kind of pathfinding is helpful; there’s only so much control a touchpad can have. But, with a controller in hand, it takes agency away from players. And when it goes bad, it leaves them annoyed.
Again, this is something that might help more easygoing gamers. But if you’re someone who likes precision control, you should know about this issue going in.
A Whole Lot of Replayability
Journey is a game that people play over and over again, even though it doesn’t feel designed for replayability. Sky, on the other hand, has taken full advantage of it.
Halfway through it, I already realized it was a game I’d like to go back to, especially if it was as short as Journey. It’s relaxing and fun, and the flight mechanics are delightful. The developers, through the spirits and the progression system—especially the fact that some areas can only be accessed if you’ve found enough spirits—mean there really is something to gain from giving the game a second or third run. In fact, there are doors that you could not possibly unlock when you first reach them, because they require finding more spirits than you could have found by that point.
It’s great to know that a game will reward you for enjoying it again.
Sky is an amazing game. It’s relaxing, beautiful, and takes most of the good things about Journey and improves upon them. Most of the problems—a funky control scheme and the social mechanics—might be a matter of taste rather than a real problem with the game. Given that it’s free on Switch, it’s a game I strongly recommend playing, even if you had only a passing interest in Journey.