Skydrift (Free) is one of the interesting recently-released games on the App Store right now, and I’m still trying to make sense of it. I’m stunned not just because a game this good is free and devoid of IAP — this is Tyson Kubota’s first game, and it’s a hell of a release — but also because it’s one of the strangest and most beautiful mobile games I’ve played in a while.
With only four themed levels, Skydrift is short. You can probably finish it in a couple of hours. It’s basically a dodge-em-up, a freefall through space that has players tilting their iPhone or iPad in different directions to squeeze through impossibly small gaps or to avoid moving objects, like the rotating blades of wooden machines or hurtling fireballs.
You begin at a snail’s pace. Touching the screen throttles you forward, but you also gain speed naturally as you’re sucked into mysterious, claustrophobic tunnels and otherworldly dimensions. White, crystal-like orbs scattered in hard to reach places serve as a temporary energy source and guide you along the right path, but there’s more than one way to overcome the challenges before you. Sometimes rushing through vast, open spaces is easier than trying to navigate a complicated, labyrinth-like network of tree branches, for example.
As long as you keep collecting orbs and avoid ramming into walls or objects, you can move forward. Skydrift takes patience; the tilt controls are initially disorienting and confusing to master, and the gradual increase of speed can induce panic. Luckily, checkpoints are frequent and fair — not too close together but not too distant. You’ll need every one. I died a lot. After a while, you start to predict where they might be placed and how long you have to hang on to reach one.
What begins as a plummet from the heavens and through Earth’s core transforms into a much more bizarre tour. Skydrift is quiet, its only sounds ambient, like the whooshing suck of wind or the brief cry of seagulls. The silence helped me focus and only fed my curiosity about what I was witnessing. I passed through three-dimensional constructs that reminded me of classic games like Myst — with their old computer graphics and abstract imagery — and then the disturbing fleshiness of System Shock. I flew by a giant mosquito and eventually found myself invading a colossal organism’s maggot-infested body.
I still have no idea what exactly it was that I experienced. It simply ended. I wish I could see more — Skydrift wasn’t nearly enough at its short length. But I do know that it was more than worth the time I spent, and I’m eager to see what Kubota makes next.