Crossy Road is a landmark in the development of mobile gaming. Hipster Whale fused the endless runner and Frogger to make a runaway hit notable for being an addictive and well-designed success story both in gameplay and free-to-play revenue. Success inevitably inspires others, and Crossy Road looks like the primary inspiration for Twisty Sky, a new iOS game from Elephant Mouse.
Climb the tower
Like Crossy Road, Twisty Sky is an endless runner that involves helping a funny little critter travel as far as possible. Here, the player must navigate up a tower via ladders that rotate with the blocks of the tower. You’re constantly chased by the Goonswarm, which are essentially angry eyeballs from World of Goo. Players have three lives, each lost when caught by the Goonswarm. Goonswarm above and below the player can be removed by spinning them away with a swipe.
Occasionally obstacles like windmills and boxing gloves on springs also provide a threat. The game keeps track of how high you’ve gotten with past attempts – encouraging the player to beat their own records. These mechanics are a fine beginning of a game. The player can collect coins along the way to unlock more characters, or opt to purchase them instead with real money. These unlockable characters range from farm animals to objects like toasters and toilets and internet memes like Doge.
Horror-romance puzzler Catherine used a similar premise to great effect by leaning into puzzle gameplay. The player had to shift blocks to create an ascending path while the ground threatened to fall from underneath them. Catherine had an intensity and strategy to its gameplay. Twisty Sky uses a similar premise but reduces the game to merely tapping and swiping as quickly as possible. There’s very little if any strategy to speak of, no forward planning and little timing required. After a few attempts, there’s little to challenge the player in a meaningful way.
Beyond the core mechanics, a crucial part of Crossy Road’s success has been its superb design. Hipster Whale eschewed a traditional soundtrack for delightful environmental sounds like car engines, water, beeps and blaring in-car music. They also created a clean, blocky design that delights – the characters are fun and recognizable. These elements complement each other and give Crossy Road a unique personality.
Twisty Sky doesn’t quite stack up. It features annoying music that compels the player to turn the sound off. The visual design is cartoonish (which is fine), but also too busy and lacking in character. References to memes like Doge and elements from other games aren’t a substitute for creating a new, distinct personality. Strong character designs can form the core of a game’s experience and keep players coming back. Pokemon wouldn’t be such a juggernaut franchise without the emotional and iconic design of its monsters.
Twisty Sky feels like an interesting concept more than it feels like a complete game. Without some changes to the mechanics and design, it’s hard to recommend over more established games. The alternatives in this space, like Crossy Road, Alto’s Adventure and Pac-Man 256 prove much more compelling. Compared to them, this one feels uninspired.
Reviewed on an iPhone 6