As soon as I saw the previews for Skyling: Garden Defense I was excited; this little puzzle game instantly reminded me of old-school isometric titles of yesteryear such as Atari’s Crystal Castles and Marble Madness.
I was even more pleased to see that developer Mighty Studios themselves pay homage to the classic games that have inspired it in the game’s description. It’s not very often I look forward to playing a new game this much.
From the very moment you start playing Skyling: Garden Defense the similarities to Crystal Castles are clear to see; it’s obvious that the developers were huge fans of Atari’s iconic arcade game. The object of the game is to guide your character, a girl named Bloom, around a series of ever more complex gardens, turning everything green. Once you surround a square area with grass the middle will fill with flowers (reminding me of the classic box-filling antics of Konami’s vintage arcade game Amidar) and you will be rewarded with coins. The level is completed when all of it is green and in “bloom”.
The cute graphics set the tone, but don’t let them fool you! This certainly isn’t a game for kids, and will challenge even the most seasoned gamers fairly quickly. As per normal with modern games, hints are given as you play. Stylised italic text appears around the outside of the play area, written in short, rhyming verse that helps you learn the mechanics of the game and what to do.
Trying to stop our heroine complete her task stop are a range of different enemies that all have their own unique skill set. For example, Sluggies, Pac-Man style ghosts, will eat the grass and undo your hard work, but can be picked up from behind and thrown into the other Blight Monsters to kill them. There are bats that flap around your head and slow you down, and Rooks, big stone monuments that block your path and head towards you should you get too close. The one really original element of Skyling: Garden Defense though is the addition of sleeping cats. These felines are happy to help, but don’t expect them to wake up! You can pick cats up and carry them around to perform several different tasks. The most notable of these are placing them on switches to open gates, and using the kitties to block an enemy’s path. Some cats will need to be moved around the level several times, adding a large degree of strategy and planning to the game. The placement of said cats becomes integral to completing many of the levels.
As the game progresses, the levels get larger and more complex and are often split into several sections. While Bloom can simply walk up and down steps, lifts needs to be used to reach the higher areas. Some of the higher levels reminded me very much of yet another classic retro arcade game, the foul-mouthed Q*Bert (of Wreck It Ralph fame), with you jumping up and down diagonally in order to turn all the squares green. There are also different types of terrain that influence the enemies. For example, trolls like stony ground and won’t venture any further. This a great help in working out your best route around the stage. You can of course control the path of enemies with the cats too. Another thing you also need to be aware of is that each level is timed, with your best times being saved so you can compare them with your friends (or simply try and improve on your own performance). Your finishing time will determine how many stars (out of three) you’re awarded for that level – completionists may revel in trying to achieve three stars on each level, but they’ll be in for quite a challenge!
Skyling: Garden Defense is simply a charming and enjoyable game with the odd dollop of frustration thrown in to keep things interesting. The isometric graphics look wonderful every pixel is beautifully drawn and each sprite is expertly animated. It pleases greatly in the audio department too with jolly tunes and great effects – I particularly loved the sound of the cats (having four of the four-legged fur balls myself!). The gameplay is easy to learn but hard to master, just as a good strategy game should be. Yes, the game can leave you pulling your hair out at times, as if you die you have to start the level all over again, but it doesn’t spoil the fun too much.
Overall I can’t help but recommend Skyling: Garden Defense to everyone out there who is either hankering for a slice of old-school arcade action or those who want to test their puzzle solving skills. For its low price, there’s plenty of gameplay on offer; it’s a game that will keep you playing for a long time to come.