I must confess I’m still baffled by Aya Studio and Ketchapp’s decision to essentially carbon copy the Monument Valley art-style for Skyward. Despite initial appearances, the games share nothing in common. All their decision has done is cheapen the reputation of the game and probably put more people off than drawn them in, despite Skyward being a free download.
That’s a big shame as, despite a blatantly sloppy comparison, a great deal of effort has gone into delivering a very entertaining app.
Skyward is all about taking steps and navigating your way through a series of varied puzzles and patterns in order to claim the highest step tally possible. The left foot is represented by a red counter and the right foot represented by a blue counter. Once you move onto a tile, the central and circling counters switch places and the tiles behind you will disappear.
Your goal is to tap the screen when the circling counter is hovered over the next step and keep going for as long as possible. Tap at the wrong time however, and you’ll fall off the edge for an instant game over. Letting the circling counter complete two full circuits of the central counter will see the same game-ending result.
In addition to walking on flat ground, your counters can scale walls, cut corners and even park on moving platforms or climb up on elevator-esque tiles, so you’ll always need to pay close attention to the screen.
The pace of the game will also change, so planning moves ahead of time is definitely recommended. There are numerous special tiles which change the properties of the counters, such as a snail tile which slows the clockwork motion of the circling counter, or a lightning bolt which speeds it up. There’s also a rotation tile which turns the circling counter anti-clockwise and even a sand timer which means the counter doesn’t disappear during its rotation. There’s even a tile which allows your counter to reach out to further afield platforms.
A combination of the platforming and puzzling makes for a rather simple, yet fiendish game which you’ll find hard to resist.
And yet, there are issues which hold this back from achieving its full potential. Not surprisingly, the music in Skyward also has a Monument Valley style feel to it. Again, this is a disappointment. While rather charming and easy to listen to in the background, it’s difficult to appreciate this game’s own identity as it’s so clearly trying to emulate someone else’s. It actually makes it difficult for you to take the game seriously after a time.
I also found that the counter placement was sometimes off, going onto tiles or falling over the edge when it shouldn’t. Whether it was a case of my timing being off or the placement of the counter being at an awkward angle, occasionally the game would unexpectedly save me from certain death, and equally penalize me unfairly.
To add to the frustrations, the game is littered with conveniently placed ads, and on more than one occasion I inadvertently hit one while tapping the screen to move along the pattern. This caused the ad to open while the game was still playing in the background and, as expected, resulted in an instant game over. Making matters worse, there isn’t a premium, ad-free version of Skyward, meaning you’ll also have to compete with intrusive pop ups while also trying to pay attention to the game.
The Game Center connectivity also seems to be more of a hindrance than a worthwhile addition to the game. When reloading, the lag is distracting and liable to cost you your progress. There are also some skips and drags in frame-rate and in moving which, in a time-sensitive game, is far from ideal.
Longevity wise, there are no achievements to claim and no online multiplayer. Game Center merely allows you to compete with friends for most steps and add your best score to the global leaderboard.
Despite the game’s compelling replayability, eventually you’ll find less and less reasons to keep coming back to it, whether you’re put off by the troublesome ads, lag, or the lack of a long-term hook. Still, when it has you, Skyward is a charming, infectious game that never lets you down when you want some fleeting fun.