[IF Comp 2019] Skies Above, by Arthur DiBianca

Arthur DiBianca has been building up a sizeable oeuvre of well-regarded puzzle parser games. I played only one them, The Temple of Shorgil (2018), but have been given to understand that it was quite typical of Arthur DiBianca’s games. It was a limited-parser puzzle game based around a central puzzle mechanic that is developed in all kinds of interesting ways. Bonus points for very solid implementation, secrets to discover, and functional prose. So when I started Skies Above, I was expecting something in the same mould.

In a sense, these expectations were met; and yet, Skies Above is very different from The Temple of Shorgil. DiBianca has clearly drawn inspiration from Superluminal Vagrant Twin, giving us a world of free movement between lightly implemented locations, limited tasks that can be performed at each of them, and a grind towards a large amount of currency. There are differences with SVT too, the two most important of which are that Skies Above is based around minigames that all involve timing or sequence; and that Skies Above is a time management game, in which you have to figure out what the most economical assignment of tasks in any given day is going to be.  

Skies Above is a lot of fun, at least for the most part. The implementation is as solid as we expect from DiBianca; the minigames are well-designed, even if some of them veer towards the irritating (looking at you, Orchard), and mostly have their own little optional puzzle attached; the pacing is good, so we never get stuck too long at one level of islands; and each new level of islands makes a difference in how we to think about our strategy. On its own terms, this game is clearly a success

If I have to criticise it, the criticism would be that it is somewhat too long. After a while, I had done some of the minigames so often that the fun factor was diminishing; and I felt disappointed and tired when the final of level of four islands was revealed around the time I was expecting to get to the end boss. A good night’s sleep helped alleviate that a bit, but I mostly continued because I wanted to see the end, not because I was still enjoying myself as much as during the first two hours. This is clearly a deeply subjective factor – others might enjoy the game for a longer or a shorter span of time – and so I can’t really blame the game design for this element of my experience.

If you liked Superluminal Vagrant Twin, you should certainly play Skies Above.

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