One of the core attractions of a handheld games system is the fact that you can take it anywhere.
While it’s awesome to be able to play deep experiences like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the go, an important aspect of a successful handheld’s library is a selection of simple “pick up and play” games that can while away a few minutes rather than a few hours. If you’re out and about, you don’t necessarily want to get stuck into a sprawling RPG, after all, so it’s good to have something on hand to fire up when you just want to play something.
This corner of the market has been dominated by smartphones and tablets for the past few years. But the Switch is showing it has plenty of solid offerings in this department, too — and best of all, many of these titles don’t have exploitative free-to-play mechanics attached.
SkyPeace costs 89p. The mobile app marketplace has taught me that this is not generally a great indicator of quality, but the art looked cute and the game sounded fun, so I didn’t mind giving it a chance. And, fortunately, it turned out to be rather fun.
In SkyPeace, you take on the role of a cute girl named Pure (or some boy, I guess, but who cares about him) as she surfs through the sky for reasons that the game never even attempts to explain. All you really need to know is that there are ten levels to complete, each of which grades you between “D” and “S” for your final score, and there’s also a whole load of Achievements to tackle to give the game some longevity. This is an old-school video game, in other words; it’s not trying to do or say anything beyond simply being fun.
The gameplay is a horizontally scrolling “dodge ’em up” in which you have to make it to the end of each stage while collecting as many coins and treasures as possible, avoiding enemies and other obstacles and perhaps discovering a few secrets along the way.
The basic mechanic to master is the game’s interesting control system. Rather than taking direct control of your character’s movement, you instead simply move them to one of eight different positions arranged in a square shape by pushing the appropriate direction on the D-pad or analogue stick. While you continue to hold the direction, they will stay there; release it and they will snap back to the middle. This high-speed movement gives the game a wonderfully “agile” feeling and also provides scope for enjoyably frantic gameplay that requires fast reactions.
Each level features pathways of coins to follow, with a combo meter and score multiplier increasing as you continue to collect them without taking damage. Break your combo or reach the end of the level and you’ll receive a score bonus according to how high the meter reached, and the multiplier will then reset to 1. One of your main aims, then, is clearly to maintain an unbroken combo for as much of the stage as possible — this usually equates to a value of around 1,500 or more, as there are achievements available for reaching this combo on one, five and all ten stages.
Enemies of various types occasionally show up in learnable, predictable formations. Some remain static, some bob up and down, some move in noticeable “rhythms” and some turn invisible after a short moment. All can be dealt with in a specific way, so a key part of going for those high scores is learning the best “steps” to avoid them.
Enemies can, however, be defeated; scattered throughout each stage are swirling tornadoes that both increase your speed and provide you with the temporary ability to ram into enemies and destroy them. Sometimes it’s more risk than it’s worth to go on the attack, however; your priority should generally be the coins.
Various pickups appear over the course of the stage. Blue capsules provide you with a shield that will protect you from a single hit without breaking your combo, while the character you didn’t choose will swoop past once per level to drop a large red capsule; collect this and you’ll enter an uncontrollable “high speed” mode in which you automatically collect all the coins and ram all the enemies out of the way.
Also scattered throughout each level are “treasures”, most of which take the form of sparkling jewels. These are worth a huge amount of points at the conclusion of the stage, so are well worth grabbing. There are also three “secret” objects per stage that appear under certain conditions: a flower, a UFO and a cube. These are worth even more points once you complete a level, so are essential if you want those S-ranks.
Everything described above also has related achievements to challenge; this is where the game’s longevity comes from, as it won’t take you long to blast through the ten stages on offer. The achievements are pleasingly varied and encourage you to play in different ways; there’s a set for playing through each level using only vertical movement, for example, as well as one for completing each stage without picking up the “high speed” capsule. There are achievements for defeating a certain number of enemies in each stage, or collecting all the treasures, or avoiding taking damage altogether. And, of course, achievements for attaining A- and S-ranks on each of the stages.
SkyPeace isn’t going to win any awards for originality or deep mechanics, but by God is it fun. It’s incredibly simple to understand and immensely satisfying to play, particularly if you go beyond the simple initial task of just trying to clear the game. Trying to “perfect” your runs and obtain those S-ranks or just chase some of the stranger achievements gives the game plenty of variety despite its simplicity — and all this is complemented by some simply lovely presentation, combining excellent 16-bit style pixel art, some appealing character designs and dangerously cute, addictive music.
It would have perhaps been nice to see some functionality like online leaderboards and maybe some unique scenery and music for each level rather than the three distinct “skins” the game cycles through, but for 89p I really can’t complain about what SkyPeace has provided me with. Especially as it hasn’t thrown a single ad or microtransaction at me during my time with it. And that, these days, is something to be celebrated!
More about SkyPeace
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