Tuesday, October 26, 2010

App O' The Mornin': Skycat and the Starchildren Review

Grade: B
Price: $1

Skycat has a lot going for it, which is why some if its flaws are so disappointing. This is a running platformer in the Canabalt family, but with a greater degree of control and style than most run-to-the-right games.

The action follows the adventures of an adorable little cat with as he runs through a fluffy cloud land filled with stars, his magical scarf flapping in the breeze as it gives him wonderful powers to leap and dash. And yet I can not only write that sentence, but admit that I enjoyed the setting and the game without any concern that people might question my masculinity.

That's because Skycat is just that damn cute.

Skycat has a couple of controls, and even after finished the game I'm still not sure I can explain how they work together. There is a simple jump button that allows him to, well ... jump. But there's also a slash-gesture input that gives him a dash in the direction of the slash: vertical, straight, or down. Vertical increases his leaps, dash increases his forward speed (usually as a forward tumble), and down slows his momentum. Used together, they allow you to more precise control over the running speed and leaping distance.

The problem lies in the screen size, which is a bit too small for Skycat's grand ambitions. It's far too easy to loose track of either the upper or lower reaches of a level, meaning that you need to feel your way through each level, failing along the way, until you really have a sense of its layout. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: any game that requires you to fail in order to understand the nature of its environment and challenges is fundamentally flawed.

The other problem is that Skycat is short. I mean, really really short: 9 levels lasting about 45 second each. Since you can't solve these levels in a single pass (see previous paragraph) it takes longer to finish the game, but that's just not enough content.

People keep lumping this one in with Robot Unicorn Attack, but there's no contest: Skycat is far better. It's also shorter. On other platforms, that would be a deal-breaker, but that's not the case with apps which a) only cost a $1 on average and b) usually get free content updates.

I liked Skycat's visuals and controls enough to overcome some pretty serious problems, but I'd like to see it evolve a bit and address some of these issues. Until then, it's a still a nice diversion for a buck.


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