opinion

Thatgamecompany’s Sky On iOS Reminds Me Of Community's Sixth Season

by Kyle Hilliard on Jul 22, 2019 at 11:00 AM

I am a longtime fan of the television show Community. I watched the pilot when it premiered because I was a fan of Donald Glover’s Derrick Comedy work, and at the time I had never seen someone I liked from YouTube make the transition into television comedy. That’s right – I liked Community and Donald Glover before it was cool. Feel free to leave your comments about how impressed you are with me below.

I was a dedicated viewer after that, and I did my best to convince others to watch when it was clear the show wasn’t getting the eyeballs it needed. I witnessed it get canceled and uncanceled and was surprised, but happy when the search engine website Yahoo announced it was going to pick up the sixth season. I even took this dumb picture at the San Diego Comic Con where Yahoo spent a whole lot of money on advertising around the area and show floor to remind everyone it was the show’s savior. Airing the next season of the show on Yahoo was weird, but I was eager to watch it on a new platform.

The night the first episode premiered, I was ready. I plugged my laptop into my TV, sat down on the couch, and navigated to Yahoo.com to witness the future of television! And it was a huge bummer. The content of the show was fine, maybe even great. Most of my favorite characters were on screen and it didn’t look any different from the previous seasons, but it just wasn’t working on a technical level. The video was constantly buffering, forcing me to pause frequently, the video quality was all over the place, and it was ruining the timing of punchlines and just generally hindering the overall experience. I was excited to watch new episodes of Community, but not like this.

Maybe the technical issues were overcome after the first episode, but I never found out. I didn’t tune in for episode two. It just wasn’t how I wanted to watch one of my favorite shows. I waited a few years until the full show came out on DVD and watched the sixth season then. For what it’s worth, it was a good season, and I will always be thankful it exists.

Playing thatgamecompany’s Sky on iOS is giving me flashes of that experience.

Like most people who think way too much about video games all the time, I love Journey. It is an emotional experience I have played multiple times. I love how its simplicity of gameplay lets you focus on how you feel, and it still looks phenomenal even seven years later. As a result, I was excited for thatgamecompany’s follow-up, Sky.

Starting it for the first time, I was surprised by how much it feels like a direct follow-up to Journey both in look and gameplay. You explore a beautiful world as a mysterious caped wanderer while a stirring soundtrack accompanies the experience. You can read Matt Miller's review of the game here where he speaks positively and in depth about those elements and its unique social mechanics. My experience has differed from Matt's, however, and I can’t help but feel like I'm playing the game on the wrong platform. I like the content of the game, but playing on my iPhone is not how I want to experience Sky.

Playing with the touchscreen is problematic, as is the case with any dual-analog touchscreen game. It generally works well enough, but it doesn’t change the fact that my thumbs are covering up a huge portion of the screen real-estate and it severely hinders the impact of the visuals.

Imagine playing Journey like this.

Being on the mobile platform also, for some reason, necessitates free-to-play mechanics and currency, which much like my thumbs covering the screen, violently rips me out of the experience. Playing Sky, I have an idea of what the game is trying to achieve: a sense of community (which is not meant to be a pun, so please don’t take it that way) and soaring beauty, but the moment I see a number next to something that I need to acquire or spend, it reminds me that this is a video game.

The thing I loved about Journey was how easy it was to forget you were playing a game. You were just part of this grand adventure with other silent adventurers, and it let you fully absorb the sound and visuals until you were a blubbering mess and you couldn’t even explain why to your wife.

I see that experience hiding behind my thumbs in Sky and I am disappointed that if I want to try and get that experience now, I have to do it with a number of asterisks and caveats. Like the title of this feature implies, it reminds me of watching the sixth season of Community on Yahoo.com. It’s just not the right platform.

Thatgamecompany has confirmed Sky is planned for other platforms beyond iPhone and an upcoming Android release. Speaking with game director Jenova Chen on a recent episode of The Game Informer Show, he said home console and PC versions of Sky will obviously have better visuals, but he also hinted that the free-to-play mechanics in the mobile game may be approached differently for those platforms. With another version of the game potentially available in the future, I think I am going to approach Sky in the same way I approached Community's final season and wait until I can experience it on a different platform. I want to play Sky on a big screen and hopefully, like the sixth season of Community, I will be happy to eventually play Sky, but right now, the game just doesn't feel right.