Over a decade ago, an artsy little indie title by the name of Journey landed on PlayStation 3 and accelerated the whole debate on whether video games can be considered as art. Since then, it’s less of a debate nowadays, as non-gameplay intensive experiences have become more commonplace. Indie developers use the medium to deliver stories and experiences rather than a gameplay challenge. The visionaries behind Journey bring us Sky: Children of the Light, which has been available on iOS for quite some time before landing on Nintendo Switch recently.
Where Journey was a more solitary experience even with its salient multiplayer component, Sky: Children of the Light takes a more communal approach, but the overall vibe and themes explored are largely similar and consistent with the developer’s signature style. Sky is a free-to-play title with optional in-game purchases and is an exclusively online experience but not the same as an MMO.
With price not being an issue and the in-game purchases being far from intrusive or even necessary, it really comes down to whether this is an experience worth investing your time into. This isn’t a gameplay-intensive experience, and while it is played online with players, there isn’t an explicit multiplayer design either. And so, the biggest challenge here is figuring what exactly players are dedicating their time and effort to.
As the game opens up, you find yourself as a spirit in a celestial realm populated by several other spirits. Some of these can be considered NPCs, but you’ll be running into real players for the most part. There is no sense of interaction among players other than subtle cues where messages can be left and “likes” generated. You’re certainly welcome to use the keyboard at any time to type out messages, in addition to the silent expressions you can learn as you progress through the game world.
Now the real question here is, well, what’s the point? The sense of world-building is vague, but the introduction at the very least makes it clear how players must traverse the world and, in a sense, restore various shrines and temples. Importantly, it’s about experiencing and witnessing the stories of voiceless spirits.
It’s all very ethereal and spiritual, and this will no doubt pique your curiosity early on, but then there is no real sense of discovery or mystery later; it’s not like you will be dying to know what happens next or what lies ahead. The non-verbal stories are touching and almost fable-like, but then there isn’t much in the way of a cohesive narrative here.
As the title suggests, this game takes place in the skies, and aside from floating and running about on the ground, most segments involve flying around. There is some measure of character growth here as you upgrade your avatar’s flying ability, but there is no real sense of urgency in the gameplay. Obviously, this is all intended, and while the game succeeds in providing a breezy and relaxing experience, the core mechanics don’t necessarily feel as smooth or dreamlike as intended.
Sky: Children of the Light really puts the onus on the player to make something of it. In a way, it almost demands the player to create and derive their own meaning and purpose, which they will need as motivation to invest in this unconventional online game.
Incidentally, what happens outside of the game will ultimately decide if this is the online adventure for you because the real community interaction occurs in the various online forums, primarily on the game’s official Reddit page. For what it’s worth, this is a pretty inviting community of like-minded gamers, and so chances are, if this is the right game for you, then you’re probably going to self-select into its community.
There’s no denying that Children of the Light is beautiful thanks to its surrealist art style, and for the most part, it performs smoothly with a stable online functionality. Players can switch between performance and graphic options, and it functions nicely even in handheld mode. The art style is similar to Journey, but with a more vibrant and uplifting tone, where the atmospheric music complements this joyful style and vibe.
For a video game to demand the player derive their own meaning from it is asking a lot. This makes Sky: Children of the Light a challenging proposition even as a free release on Switch. For many, it may be a few hours of wandering about before they are put off by the aimlessness of it all. Still, at least for its niche audience, they will likely self-select into this unique gaming community. Sky is a pointless online video game experience driven by the player’s own subjective interpretation, but that’s perhaps the entire point.
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