Lila’s Sky Ark is an atmospheric Metroidvania developed by Monolith of Minds.
You play as Lila, a girl in a place below the waves and above the clouds. The strangeness of the land and its inhabitants is supposed to be more personal and metaphorical than practical, but explaining more would spoil part of the story. A part of the story I can get into is about Lila coming to terms with her mother dying and her father forcing her to write letters to her, presumably as a form of grief counseling. The letters you find start crass and dismissive but grow to be heartfelt and dig into complex feelings like losing a loved one and contemplating our own mortality, despite each letter only being a few paragraphs long.
Gameplay mostly consists of Metroidvania-style exploring and a few inventory object puzzles that consist of guessing which thing needs to be given to which person. Your main ability is picking things up and throwing them. Throwing objects at enemies is your only means of attack, with different objects dealing different amounts of damage, having different ranges, and damaging a single target or an area. Wonky hit detection sometimes causes objects to hit a thing close to where I aimed rather than what I wanted, but learning the rhythm of combat and when to dodge was satisfying. Unfortunately, despite finding new objects to throw, combat never evolves into something more intricate or engaging. A few varieties of common enemies doesn’t add much to add any layers to combat. However, the boss fights were a highlight, showcasing a few unique ideas and requiring an understanding of timing and rhythm not required in the rest of the game.
You gain more abilities as you progress, such as being able to jump and lift heavier objects. These abilities are mostly used to access new areas and don’t add much to combat or means of traversal, making the gameplay stale after a few hours since the act of exploring isn’t particularly unique, fun, or complex.
Several gameplay issues soured my overall feeling about the game. How to progress is usually unclear. Puzzles often have abstract solutions, such as having an item in your inventory to activate a boss. I usually had to explore at least half of a new area before I found a map of it. The map only marks some blocked areas, so you can see what looks like an open pathway on the map, only to find it’s blocked by something when you get there. All of this led to a lot of frustrating and unnecessary backtracking in my six-to-seven hours of play, and it sucked out much of the awe that comes from exploring such a lush and unpredictable world.
The environment and characters make it feel kind of like an interactive dream. The unique logic of the world, bizarre inhabitants, and lack of context made the world engaging. However, the actual gameplay lacks that imagination, feeling both basic and out of place among such grander and more abstract ideas. If the psychedelic parts of it seem interesting enough to you, then it’s probably worth a look. If you’re expecting something more substantial after the presentation, you’ll likely be disappointed by mediocre gameplay.
Lila’s Sky Ark is available now for $14.99 on PC and Nintendo Switch.
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