First impressions are often a good indicator of quality. Sometimes, though, you need to look deeper than a first glace. Sky Taxi is one great example of not judging a book by its cover.
When the game first starts, the exposition is displayed in poorly-sketched comic book panels, with very awkward English. The premise is completely transparent, and nothing seems to really make sense (something about fairies being abducted by aliens, you being a mouse/rat creature named Mich, being the rookie of a group, yet you’re the one they send on a mission, and coins or treasure somehow come into the mix).
The graphics and sound are all very ho-hum, and are nothing spectacular. Nothing offensive to the senses either, but just do not stand out with games like Braid out there.
But then you start playing. And playing. All of a sudden, you’ve been playing for over an hour, progressed 30 levels and want to keep going. There is a certain charm here, and it’s worth exploring.
As long as you ignore the backstory of Sky Taxi and just enjoy the game at face value, there’s a lot to enjoy here. At its heart, Sky Taxi is a platform/puzzle/collection game. There are 180 levels, and tons of secrets to discover. Mich is easy to control, with the arrow keys taking care of everything. Up jumps, left and right makes you walk in that direction, and down performs actions like throwing boxes or entering doors.
Later in the game, water levels change Mich’s controls to swimming, but it’s all very simple to do. There is an option to use the mouse to control the game, but this should be avoided at all costs unless you enjoy watching Mich walk into a wall, or in the wrong direction and don’t feel the need to time your jumps properly.
To complete a level, you must rescue fairies trapped in golden cages. A counter at the top tells you how many are left to complete the level, and a helpful moving arrow will guide you to any fairies you’re missing., as well as the exit once they’re all freed.
Along the way, you’ll meet up with many enemies, which can be defeated by the usual method of bopping them on the head or throwing something at them. Sometimes you might see a darkened doorway, which, with a quick hit of the action button, allows you to hide while an enemy harmlessly passes you by. Fruit, scattered around the level, helps keep your health meter topped up.
Inexplicably, there are "Show" tents littered throughout the game, in which Mich performs on some sort of TV show (huh?) and receives a higher rating for successfully completing little mini-game challenges. These ratings come into play when you need the help of a crowd standing around in certain areas (again, huh?) who will only help you out if you’re a big enough TV star. While on an extra-terrestrial rescue mission. With baddies all around.
Don’t try to make sense of it. Just go with it.
Other that the main progression, the Sky Taxi (hence, the name of the game; hey, at least they didn’t call it Fairie Rescue) allows you to jump to previously-finished levels, and you will need to backtrack. As you discover some of the game’s 25 well-hidden Rare Items, Mich gains new abilities like better speed, higher jumps or protective shields. These abilities grant you access to previously-unreachable areas.
The level design varies from very simple to sometimes devilishly clever. Secret platforms, switches and areas add a lot to what would otherwise be an ordinary game. Sometimes, characters appear in areas and, if you talk to them, will whisk Mich away to a bonus area. Most of the time, though, they say boring things like "Hi Mich" and… umm, "Hi." Really, that’s all they tend to say.
Every now and then, you’ll face off against one of the game’s ten bosses. They tend to have non-threatening names like Magic Stones, Giant Fish or Boss Bird. Sadly, while a nice change of pace, they do not present much of a challenge.
Indeed, if there is one big complaint about Sky Taxi, it’s that it’s too easy. Even though the game has long legs (after four hours of play, I was only able to reach level 85 and unlocked three of the game’s Rare Items; it is rare to have a game that is so long-lasting), extra lives are easy to come by, and enemies aren’t much of a challenge.
However, if you like exploration, collecting and secrets, Sky Taxi is an unpolished gem of a game. Try the demo and, as long as you ignore the writing and story, I guarantee those 60 minutes will fly by.