It has been nearly seven years since thatgamecompany released Journey. Though we haven’t seen a new game in the interim, the studio has been plenty busy. Since 2012, it has won countless awards, finished its contract with Sony, raised millions of dollars in venture capital, parted with some of its original team members, and spent a considerable amount of energy creating a worthy follow-up to one of the most critically successful games of all time.
That follow-up is called Sky: Children of the Light, and it will be released for iOS in July and Android in the “near future.” I had a chance to demo the game and speak with studio co-founder Jenova Chen in a small, behind-closed-doors both on the show floor of E3 2019. Together, we took a tour of a mobile game he compares to a theme park.
Sky looks and feels quite a bit like Journey, but with more people. Up to 8 players can join a session through their smartphone or tablet. These groups feel big, but not massive; busy but not totally unwieldy. There’s a logic to their size: Chen hopes Sky will be a game entire families play together.
Of course, he clarifies, people can also play alone. Some puzzles require 8 players to cooperate, but Chen recognizes that sometimes collaborating with seven friends can be a bit like “wrangling cats.”
I doubt anybody will want to play alone though. Sky recaptures that beautiful mix of playfulness and performance of its predecessor. I can’t yell over voice chat; instead I must communicate with audible pings and gestures.
Throughout the game, I can collect darling emotes by solving puzzles and locating its various characters. In the demo, Chen lights a candle to open a door, but rather than move on to the next area, I sit next to the little fire, tapping my character to make him sing in adorable chirps.
The touch controls are contextual and intuitive. With a tap on Chen’s character, my own character enters auto-pilot, following Chen wherever he goes. With another tap, our characters hold hands, providing each other an energy boost. We hold our screens, then let go, and with a whoosh, our collected energy launches us into the sky. We leisurely glide over the landscape, looking for things to do.
“I’m trying to make something like a Pixar movie,” Chen says. “Something for the family to play together. Mobile phones have two billions players, but there are only 200 million consoles. That means 9 in 10 people haven’t used a console.”
The Pixar comparison is appropriate. Like Pixar films, the game intends to be enjoyed by both kids and adults. And like Pixar films, it has a colorful art style that doesn’t feel over-the-top or pandering.
Sky has seven lands with different themes inspired by places with distinct feelings, haunted mansions and moody libraries. In each space, players are given simple tasks. The real magic is simply getting around. Similar to Journey, the simple act of surfing down a sandy hill or floating off a mountain crest feels wonderful.
There are puzzles, but they’re simple, like igniting pillars at the same time. They’re almost like a dance. In this way, I get the theme park comparison. The goal isn’t to beat the game; it’s to have fun in this magical space.
Chen has been outspoken about his desire to not just make games for everybody, but to make games that everybody can play together. Some video game fans might prefer challenging shooters or platformers, while others prefer puzzles and clicker games. Playing Sky, which looks and feels like a console game, but works elegantly on mobile, I can imagine thatgamecompany threading the needle.
When the demo wraps, I ask Chen what will be the metric for Sky’s success. He says the team doesn’t expect to top the ridiculous number of awards given to Journey. “I think it will be how many people played the game, and they changed their taste,” says Chen. “That they don’t want to play crappy games anymore.”