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Skyward (iOS|Android) is a free game that challenges you to move two rotating dots through a constantly changing world by tapping to make each "step" along your path. The game is as challenging as it is frustrating, but is also incredibly addictive as you try to keep moving forward without making mistakes.
At first glance, Skyward looks a lot like Monument Valley , the popular iOS puzzle game. Both offer constantly shifting surroundings, and they even share the same general design language; but that's where the similarities stop. Instead Skyward is a game about timing and trying to survive as long as possible.
It's important to note right away that this free game is ad-supported. Not only is there an ad at the bottom of the screen at all times, but big ads pop-up full screen and it's hard not to press on them.
When you first launch Skyward you start playing the game immediately. There is no tutorial beyond the words "Tap to Step" that sit just above the dots on the screen.
Placed on a platform is a red dot, with a blue dot circling it. The dots essentially play a game of leapfrog, tapping on the screen plants the circling dot on your path and causes the second dot to start rotating. A dot can make two rotations before it shrinks and disappears, abruptly ending the level. In this manner, you step forward by tapping and planting the next dot earning a point for each step you take.
If the dot is off the platform when you tap, even by the slightest bit, the game ends and you will have to start all over.
As you reach various score milestones, different patterns are unlocked. Patterns are stretches of path that have a unique feature that will effect your run. For example, one pattern has blocks with lighting bolts on them, and when you have several of them together, it means you'll need to tap more quickly than usual to continue stepping forward. There are several different patterns available that keep the game interesting, but they also make it much more challenging.
That's why it's a little odd that you're greeted with a large "Congratulations" message when you unlock one and a preview of the new pattern is displayed. At first I thought new patterns were a reward, only to soon find out that a new pattern serves to increase the difficulty of the game.
I don't know about you, but when I'm playing a game and see "Congratulations," I'm hoping for something that will make the game easier. With Skyward it's more like "Congratulations, the game is about to get harder!"
Even so, the new patterns add an interesting dynamic to Skyward. Instead of repeating levels you've already mastered, the patterns give you more variation.
As a result, while I loathe seeing the "Congratulations" message because the game is about to get harder, but I've grown to appreciate the new challenges accompanying it.
The game is hard enough with its varying patterns and multidimensional shifts, but it doesn't stop there. Placed throughout the various levels and patterns are squares with different icons on them. One resembles a snail, another is a two semi-circle arrows and there's a lightning bolt (that I mentioned above). Each icon has a different affect on the dots. For example, the lightning bolt speeds up the rotating dot for a step. The snail slows it down for a step, while the semi-circle arrows reverse the direction of rotation.
All are meant to take you out of rhythm so you'll make a mistake so it's important to be ready for each type of block.
Skyward is currently free in the App Store, and surprisingly, it lacks any sort of in-app purchase. Instead it's ad supported, with a single ad constantly displayed at the bottom of the screen.
If the developers had stopped there with the ads, I would take no issue with them. However, after you've been playing the game for a few minutes the repetitive nature of tapping starts to take over. And wouldn't you know it, a full-screen ad is randomly displayed after you've tapped on the screen to start a new level. Normally you'd keep tapping to continue playing, but with an ad being displayed instead of the next level, the end result is you tapping on an ad and being taken out of the game.
I understand that developers need to make money to produce games, but I think it's sneaky the way the ads pop up randomly.
Skyward is a fun game that is enormously addictive. Once you get into a groove you just want to get further and there's a sense of satisfaction when you complete a run of difficult patterns. Even when I frustratingly made a mistake by tapping too late, I would dive right in to another game.
Unfortunately the ads are definitely annoying. The gameplay kept me coming back for just one more run, but in a 20-minute span I accidentally opened three different advertisements along the way.
Still, if you want a challenge that's both visually appealing and satisfying to play, Skyward is a great game. Just watch out for the sneak attack ads.