The 2D platformer has never truly disappeared from the world of video games, but it's fair to say that the genre has found some new love through improvements in digital distribution. It's here that independent developers have been able to stretch their legs, and test their mettle in the industry, often with fantastic results. After all, games like Shovel Knight have found a tremendous following, so there's plenty of love for the genre left.
That's where SkyKeepers comes in, offering up a combat-based 2D platforming experience. It's the kind of thing that's been seen before although the title, from developer Sword Twin Studios, does have a fairly comprehensive move set for a game of this ilk. Alongside the usual move, jump, and attack, there's a combo system of sorts and the player does have the ability to wall jump, which is a neat touch.
Perhaps the most fun aspect of the game mechanics comes in the form of the Spirit Walk ability, with the player able to teleport to avoid nasty pitfalls and reach elusive enemies. What's more, enemies can also be used for the Spirit Walk ability, meaning that the user can jump from enemy to enemy to pull off vicious attacks, which is certainly a satisfying experience when it all falls into place.
Unfortunately, it doesn't fall into place as often as the player may want. There's all the potential here for a game for fans of the likes of Guacamelee, particularly when light Metroidvania stylings are taken into consideration, and if the platforming and combat segments had both reached their full potential then there certainly could have been something to it. Unfortunately, there's a lack of finesse in SkyKeepers, and it means that the game can sometimes be a very frustrating one to play.
Part of this certainly comes down to the way that the game controls. SkyKeepers feels quite touchy, meaning that precision jumping is not exactly the easiest thing to do. Unfortunately, with maps full of pitfalls and branching paths that require some skilled play to explore fully, this means that the game isn't always as seamless as an experience as one might expect, and a far cry from the likes of the Rayman games.
This also follows through to the combat, too. Players have the option of using a standard attack or unleashing a special, with different analog directions resulting in a different attack being used, and this could be used to great effect to try and pick through the game's enemies. Unfortunately, again, it all feels slightly worse for wear, with combat sections feeling rigid, both in their setup and the gameplay itself.
There's a severe amount of repetition when it comes to combat in SkyKeepers. All too often, the player will enter a new room of the map, be locked in as enemies gradually spawn, and then have to defeat them all before moving on to the next room. Unfortunately, this becomes something of a chore, particularly when going through rounds of enemy spawning.
It also doesn't help that the rewards for fighting unnecessary battles don't really seem like they're worth it. SkyKeepers does offer up some different aspects to the game through some small extras in the form of mild RPG mechanics and basebuilding, but there's no real thrill to be found here.
At the very least, however, Sword Twin Studios has put some good thought into the different enemy varieties, switching up standard melee combat units with flying units, and each enemy does require a slightly different tactic to take down without also taking damage in the process. When being dogpiled by multiple enemy types, this can lead to tense showdowns, where utilizing Spirit Walking comes in handy.
The boss battles, too, are generally solid, and one of the instances where a lock-in room definitely works well. Players will need to rely heavily on their reflexes and knowledge of the moveset to fight against large bosses, and there's something reminiscent of the foreboding opponents fought in Salt and Sanctuary here, albeit not quite at the same level of quality.
So, SkyKeepers does have its moments, but unfortunately these few gameplay flourishes aren't enough to overcome the game's flaws. The title's issues aren't just tied to its mechanics either, with the game's overarching story and its graphical choices also causing problems.
The game's narrative has a very disjointed feel to it, with signs of a much larger plot not quite gelling with the game's pick-up-and-play gameplay. There is also a very odd thematic shift early in the game, where a generally light story takes a decidedly darker turn, quickly moving from a coming-of-age tale to something with much higher stakes.
This isn't helped by the way the game looks, either, with a decidedly vibrant and cartoonish feel not lending itself well to the story that Sword Twin Studios aims to tell. There's also a lack of quality here, which is particularly apparent with both playable characters and ally NPCs - which also doesn't help the user feel particularly aligned to the stakes of the story nor the motivations of the playable characters. Thankfully, the design of enemies is much better, with some nice details and a good level of variety.
In short, then, SkyKeepers is very much a flawed game, with a few pockets of gameplay that struggle to make up for the title's shortcomings. Although there are signs of a good game underneath the surface, the lack of finesse on the graphical front and the level of frustration found within large chunks of gameplay makes it a tricky game to recommend.
SkyKeepers is out now for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Game Rant was provided with a PS4 code for the purposes of this review.