The journey into the land of the surreal entails a realm of endless possibilities. With such open parameters, it can be difficult to narrow down an appealing central theme. For Lila’s Sky Ark, we get a quirky and eccentric world full of comical characters and colorful environments. Yet, beyond these charming aspects is an experience that leaves much to be desired. While the elements are there for an impactful psychedelic journey, the details fall flat in this whimsical expedition.
Atmosphere is an essential component of Lila’s Sky Ark. As you dive into the game, you find yourself slowly descending underwater to the oddly captivating seafloor. From there, you quickly transition into the pastel skies, as you hear Lila’s name being softly whispered into your ears.
Upon your awakening, you find yourself in the clouds with sweet, ambient music playing in the background. The setting is quite engrossing, with each environment evoking certain mental states through the use of lighting and color variance. Adding to the dreamlike world is the quality pixel art. Though it’s nothing extraordinary, the aesthetic fits the experience to a tee.
What propels the atmosphere even further is variety. Throughout Lila’s Sky Ark, variety presents itself within the music, the characters, and the tones. The soundtrack is engaging as it encapsulates the scenery and levels that you’re traveling through. You can go from eccentric and lively in one grassy field to dismal and bleak in an empty cave. The characters and sounds that accompany them are all silly and entertaining. Some of the moments I had with these characters made me chuckle and smile contentedly.
While the setting and atmosphere are charming, the charm wears off when it comes to the gameplay. As Lila, you must explore the world, solve puzzles, and fight enemies alongside bosses. These seem like standard gameplay conditions, but the mechanisms do not make this a smooth or rewarding experience.
Starting off with the exploration, Lila’s Sky Ark is a Metroidvania title. As such, there will be some back-tracking needed as you unlock abilities and areas over time. Backtracking itself isn’t an issue, but the reward for your efforts is a little underwhelming. When you discover something new, the hope is that your return to previous areas will breathe new life into the experience. However, there’s a minimal amount of satisfaction you get from the benefits that you reap for exploring. To give some credit, there are scattered mailboxes that act as teleport points, so the adventure isn’t full of tedium.
Puzzles make up the most interesting portion of the gameplay. Many of the environmental puzzles and obstacles are fitting of the erratic and peculiar nature of this world. For example, in one area, you are tasked with corralling beings known as “rollers” to move a King from one area to the next. However, when you do so, a spontaneous, yet hilarious outcome ensues, making the mission feel fruitful. These puzzles are representative of what type of mood the game is presenting.
Unfortunately, the biggest letdown, which is one of the primary aspects of the game, is the combat. Unlike many other titles, you don’t have standard weapons to attack any of the enemies with. Rather, any offensive projectile you can use must be picked up and carried in your inventory. Though there is a variety to your throwing items, such as bombs and rocks, the novelty wears off quickly. In order to fight against any of the enemies, you need to make sure that you have enough items on you.
I could forgive a system like this if the execution was smooth and reliable. Sadly, aiming isn’t a great experience and controlling the range is difficult, especially when the enemies are close to you. In addition, there isn’t a helpful indicator to show how much damage you’re causing, leading to many of your attack patterns being based on trial and error. Luckily, the boss fights make up for this by repeatedly replenishing a stock of items throughout, giving you enough to fight back with.
When gameplay isn’t your main focus, story and narrative are guiding you forward. Your main task is to save the world from evil minions bent on destroying anything magical or musical. Though the game’s story doesn’t have a lot of depth, there are subtle themes of loss and depression, a nice counter to the bright and vivid imagery within the overworld. While the change of tone is nice, the methods in relaying the story could have been more personal and impactful. Much of the context is via letters you read from each mailbox you come upon, keeping it simple but tame.
For those curious, this game acts as somewhat of a prequel to Monolith of Mind’s other game, Resolutiion. The main difference that some might be pleased to see is that the level designs are more varied in Lila’s Sky Ark, making the environments and exploration feel more dynamic. Unfortunately, the map isn’t that sizable and gameplay won’t last you long, making this experience short-lived and underwhelming.
When going through the motions of Lila’s Sky Ark, you can find yourself entranced by the world’s vibrancy and the alluring atmosphere. But once you’re done being mesmerized, you start to feel disenchanted by the gameplay. Nothing feels fully immersive or exceptional, but nothing also feels abysmal or detrimental. As Lila, you wade through your journey and come out the other side feeling slightly satisfied. It was an above-average ride that you may not try again, but not one you regret.
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