As a culture, we often romanticize the large moments of triumph, like scoring the winning goal, finishing the last stretch of a run or rescuing a kitten from a burning building. These moments are indeed worthy of celebration, but in our rush to worship at the feet of a larger-than-life victory, we tend to forget the simpler joys. The smooth pages of a book as they flip between your fingers, the new ingredient that manages to improve your favorite dish, and the night under the stars with an old friend are just as vital as their bigger siblings. Sadly, they tend to fly under our radars as we chase the more bombastic kernels of joy.
Castles in the Sky, The Tall Trees’ debut game, wants to remind us of the small things in life. And after spending hours scaling its delightful world, I’d say it succeeded.
The premise immediately gets down to brass tacks: a young boy grabs hold of an oversized balloon, determined to search for adventure. Castles in the Sky tosses danger to the wind, instead presenting a journey distilled to its very core as you soar through the sky. You hop ever upward into the next set of clouds, accompanied by simplistic poetry and a warm, restrained piano.
It was easy to tell what The Tall Trees was going for within the first minute; this is an interactive storybook, through and through. That simplistic distillation might discourage some of you, but rest assured, it’s more player-guided than that description suggests. Though my controls were limited to jumping and steering the child in mid-air, the platform-like clouds varied in shape, size, location and speed, preventing me from playing on autopilot. The colored rings floating about weren’t required to climb, but collecting them added a playful strike of a xylophone to the soundtrack, as if a youngster was eagerly mimicking the pianist.
Throughout my ascent, Castles in the Sky populated the puffs of nimbus with landmarks that teeter between reality and imagination. I crossed paths with a set of potted plants, a bi-plane drawing loops in the sky, and a swarm of friendly fireflies that drew close to the boy when I idled. Each encounter brought its own warmth and liveliness to the proceedings, offering glimpses at the world below from the lofty skies.
As I guided my red-shirted youth through cloud after cloud, taking in the sights and sounds of the world above, it managed to plant a growing sense of genuine contentment. It was practically therapeutic; on a particularly dark day when everything felt awful, its serene optimism managed to remind me that the world isn’t such an awful place after all. Though the first playthrough took less time than the average television episode, I found myself glued to the chair for an hour, taking it in again and again.
Played from beginning to end, Castles in the Sky only lasted for 15 minutes, never threatened me with any danger, and only let me jump and steer the little boy to his luxurious bed in the sky. Despite this outward simplicity, it gave me something much more valuable: the warmth of a night curled up to the fireplace, or a sip of cinnamon cider in the throes of winter. I never knew how much I valued that feeling until this vignette of a game brought it floating back into my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful. If there’s a more positive way to spend $1.50, I haven’t heard of it.
Castles in the Sky retails for $1.50, and can be found here. A review code was provided by The Tall Trees.