The App Store is filled with hundreds or even thousands of platformers, and it’s hard for any one game to get attention. That’s the problem NightSky faces: it doesn’t have a gimmick or a big-name license, so how is it going to stand out?
The developers of NightSky seem to be placing their bet on atmosphere and gameplay. The game pretends to be a series of dreams in which a narrator discovers a mysterious sphere on the beach, then watches it roll across a series of landscapes. It’s a thin premise and not really the sort of dream we go in for, but to each his own. As an excuse for creating levels full of night skies and silhouettes, it works just fine.
NightSky’s controls are part of establishing the mood. Most of what you do in the game is accomplished with swipes. Swiping right and left accelerates the ball; you brake by holding your finger on the screen. When you tap, it’s usually to remove a platform and clear a path for your sphere to roll. The taps can get elaborate, to the point that some levels have you tapping flippers and playing pinball. But most of the time you swipe the ball and watch it roll, and there’s something relaxing about that.
The level design contributes to this feeling of relaxation. Each level is three screens wide. Most of the time, the middle screen is the most challenging screen. You may have to complete a difficult series of jumps, or negotiate an unusual path, or push some boxes and wheels around. Once you do that, the third screen is usually empty. The game has a distinct rhythm: learn what the level is about in the first screen, beat the challenge in the second screen, then just roll to the finish in the third screen. Most levels could end after the second screen, but we enjoyed those extra few seconds.
We can’t say the same for all of the second screens. NightSky is full of dozens of creative challenges, and each one is fun in its own way. We loved rolling through mazes and flying ornithopters and all the little variations on the game’s core mechanics. But there are also puzzles that require a series of fast, precise swipes to avoid certain doom, and Apple touchscreens do not do fast, precise swipes well.
It’s not that we mind repeating parts of a level until we get it right. That’s part of the genre. But when you have to restart the level, then negotiate a tricky beginning for the fifteenth time just to fail the middle section again… that’s not fun. As with many platformers, a few well-placed checkpoints would save a lot of iPads from being tossed aside in frustration.
Aside from that, the game has a lot to offer. We sometimes wished for a little more plot or another character to interact with, but the variety of the challenges kept us entertained. We enjoyed solving the puzzles, finding the “secret stars” that you need for the endgame, and just rolling the ball around the levels. NightSky may not stand out as a classic, but it’s a good game for an idle spring evening.