Crow Hands-On Preview

Crows are a sacred animal to many cultures, and an upcoming iOS game from brand-new developers Sunside Games intends to pay respectful homage to these brothers in black. Crow is an action/adventure game with a spirited soul, but the directionless avian protagonist also reminds us a bit of the poorly-received film Legend of Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.

You play as a crow who is tasked with fighting a spreading darkness. The game consists of an exploration mode and an action mode. In an early part of the game’s exploration mode, you’ll circle above a cornfield and barn, seeking out special hidden “trinkets” that only sharp-eyed birds can spot. Tapping anywhere will cause your bird to automatically veer in that direction, and you can sit back while your bird flies straight ahead.

To zoom in your bird’s eye view and uncover trinkets, you can use a two-finger zoom, the same way you’d zoom in on a webpage or photo on your iOS device. You can also pinch to zoom out and get a wider view of the area.

When you locate a hidden object, it’ll glow, allowing you to tap and collect it for points. Sometimes you’ll locate a hotspot that will send you into the game’s action mode. Here, the camera switches to a behind-the-tail-feathers view, and you can move around more freely to collect points. You’ll also be able to pause the action briefly and draw on the screen to attack or summon a shield around your crow.

When you’re just flying around, looking for trinkets and hotspots, Crow can feel a bit disorienting. There’s no minimap to give you a sense of where to go, which suits the atmosphere but not the gameplay. Instead, you’ll have to make mental notes of which areas you’ve already explored in the game’s nicely-rendered landscape.

The combat portions seem to have more potential. Early on, we engaged in one fight with a vicious owl, who would turn and glare at us before screeching and attacking claws-first. There’s also an encounter with a demonic scarecrow, but getting to these fights can take a bit of patience.

After playing a bit of Crow, we’re a bit confused about what type of game this will ultimately be. It’s intentionally slow-paced and mysterious, with beautiful environments and an ambitious attempt at storytelling. But at the same time, it could use more focus and direction, so that you spend less time flying aimlessly and more time clawing at evil demon birds.

With clearer goals, which the developers can certainly refine between now and its release in April or May, Crow has potential as a stylish, offbeat adventure. It’ll be a universal app, and is expected to launch in the next few months for $4.99, running on the iPhone 4, iPad, and all newer devices.