SkyKeepers Review

By Kelly Packard,
Frustration — it's something to which no gamer is immune. We often find ourselves in a bout of irritation for any number of reasons. Sometimes games are difficult or even unfair. Other times the mechanics don't work as intended, and that upsets us. We always find fault with performance issues. SkyKeepers dabbles a little bit in all of the above. Make no mistake, the 2D platformer from Sword Twin Studios isn't hard. "Annoying" is more of an applicable word.


It all starts out just fine. You'll notice the visuals of the game are pleasant. You'll step into the shoes of Tangi, a village chief attempting to save his family and his village from a not-very-nice opposing faction. You'll learn about the game's combat system. Inflicting damage on an enemy will allow you to teleport to them using your Spirit Walk ability, continuing to strike them to keep your combo going. It's also handy for dodging and swiftly navigating the battlefield. When everything is functioning properly, it can be a satisfying system. Unfortunately, it never seems to work that way in practice, which sums up SkyKeepers in a nutshell.

The teleporting is unreliable at best. Objects and enemies to which you can teleport will be marked with a circle indicator, but many times the cursor would be pointed directly at these indicators only for the game to inform me there was nothing there to which I could jump. The combat does feel gratifying when it's going well, but enemies are bullet sponges even with your upgraded attacks, so every battle overstays its welcome. It's a lot more effective to cower in a corner and spam throwing daggers or fire bombs at a challenging boss from a safe distance than it is to try to land a 50-hit combo using melee attacks and teleportation. Because of this, it became preferable to avoid using these mechanics, especially in a pinch.

Ah, a screen with no enemies is always  a pleasant sightAh, a screen with no enemies is always a pleasant sight

You also might be calling the game out because often times occurrences just feel unfair. For whatever reason, most of the damage you take from enemies and the environment applies knockback and knockdown effects. Mix that with a platforming game where all the battles occur with more spaces to fall off the edge than to actually stand, and you'll be tossed off into the abyss more often than not. That swift and smooth combo is great, but what's more likely to happen is an endless string of being knocked down, taking damage as you stand up, falling off the edge from a knockback, and getting immediately knocked down again when you respawn back on the platform. Rinse and repeat for eight hours. You'll quickly learn that the easiest way to dispatch a bulky enemy is to knock them off the edge, resulting in an instant kill — using their own tactics against them, ha!

The same feelings could be applied to others aspects of the game like the platforming, not just combat. The meat of SkyKeepers' content is its story missions, but you can also set out on side quests to earn raw materials to upgrade stores in the village, which in turn can allow you to unlock new abilities and items. These side quests either involve beating up a bunch of bad guys or completing time trials. In the time trials, you must perfect a speedrunning segment, utilizing your Spirit Walk and other abilities along with regular old platforming tropes like leaping across gaps, avoiding environmental hazards and more. These are a good idea in theory and are a nice way to break up the endless combat, but the platforming just isn't smooth enough for these to be anything but aggravating. When it comes to platforming, the game seems to have a knack for doing whatever you didn't want it to do: grabbing onto a ledge when you were trying to go speedily downward, not sticking onto a wall, or registering your joystick input as something different.

Upgrade the shops from drab to Rodeo DriveUpgrade the shops from drab to Rodeo Drive

Another one of the many annoyances is the checkpointing system. The checkpoints are not mean; they just don't make sense. Upon dying, the game doesn't make you re-defeat the enemies you already felled, but there is only one checkpoint per level, usually smack in the middle of the level. If you die before the first checkpoint, you'll restart from the beginning of the level, and if you die after, you'll start from the checkpoint. This means that when you die and respawn again, you may have to walk through half a dozen or more empty screens for no real reason. If you had to fight battles beyond that point, this would be a somewhat understandable — albeit annoying — system, but in its current iteration it's just a waste of the player's time spent doing nothing of value.

All in all there is a good amount of content when you add up the story missions and the side content, but none of it is memorable due to the lack of variation in both the environments and the enemies. There are three different "worlds," but they're virtually the same levels set to a different background image. The breakable objects, which you can smash to collect more money, are the same in all three worlds. There are few differences in the platforming obstacles found in the three locations. Enemies are mostly carbon copies of baddies from other worlds despite aesthetic differences, with the exception of one or two in the last location. More than once I had déjà vu that I was fighting the exact same enemies in the exact same location as a previous level.

You see buddy, I'm a SkyKeeper, and you're in the sky, so you're dead. #LogicYou see buddy, I'm a SkyKeeper, and you're in the sky, so you're dead. #Logic

To earn all of the game's 10 achievements, you're in for an easy eight-hour ride, give or take a little bit. To earn them all, you'll have to earn 100% completion on the game, meaning you've completed every level, rescued every villager (the game's form of a collectible; you'll need these to upgrade the shops) and upgraded all three shops to their maximum level of nine. There are a handful of others that you'll earn naturally along the way, like breaking 1,000 objects or Spirit Walking 500 times. The only one for which you may have to go out of your way is the 50-hit combo, but there are plenty of good spots in which to accomplish it.

Summary

SkyKeepers is going on the short list of Xbox games that are easy gamerscore but just aren't very good. While things start off well, and the combat is an interesting concept, it's quicker and easier to dispatch enemies using other methods, so it rarely gets a chance to shine. Enemies are damage sponges, and the combat feels cheap and unfair thanks to an endless cycle of being repeatedly knocked down, pushed off the edge, lasered into oblivion, pummeled by a mini boss... well, you get the point. The platforming itself isn't smooth or responsive, which makes segments of the game a lot more frustrating than they would be if the mechanics just worked. Lastly, if you weren't annoyed enough with all of the above, you'll get the joy of walking through six or seven empty screens every time you die, screens which will all begin to blur together after a while because of the lack of variation from level to level.
2.5 / 5
SkyKeepers
Positives
  • Combat is an interesting concept
Negatives
  • Fights often feel cheap or unfair
  • Platforming isn't smooth or responsive
  • Checkpoint system wastes the player's time
  • Little level and enemy variation
Ethics
The reviewer spent about eight hours with SkyKeepers. All levels were completed, all collectibles were earned, and all shops were upgraded to their maximum level. 10 out of 10 achievements were won for a total of 1,000 gamerscore. An Xbox One code was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purpose of this review.
Kelly Packard
Written by Kelly Packard
In a few descriptors: college student, longtime gamer, writer and junk food enthusiast. I contribute to TrueAchievements as a news writer and reviewer. Usually, you can find me knee-deep in a multiplayer game while ignoring my growing backlog or on one forum or another discussing all things gaming.