Video games have come a long way from their humble, straightforward beginnings. They're still a form of entertainment, primarily designed to help you waste time and relax, so there will always be a mission to complete, a goal to achieve or an enemy to defeat. However, there are simpler, quieter stories to be told as well, with an audience that's more and more ready to experience them. Star Sky 2 is eager to share one such tale, but is it enough to hold your attention?
As the sequel to a fairly divisive original, we suggest reading our review of the first Star Sky to get an idea of what this game is about. Granted, the very act of calling Star Sky 2 a "game" is debatable, as there is minimal emphasis on traditional interaction and feats of player skill. You only need to use either the B or A button to move forward and take a stroll through the night at your own pace. It's the exact same kind of gameplay that made the original so unique and laid-back, meaning that it won't appeal to anyone that didn't enjoy their first starlit excursion, but offers more of the same to anyone who did.
The same soothing atmosphere and shadowy visuals set the tone again, as your character moves along through quiet plains and mysterious slopes. Every so often, you'll come across a variety of events, which can be triggered if you stand still and specific requirements are met. These are signalled by a twinkling sound, and possibly open alternate paths or add different weather effects to the evening. Events like this form the bulk of the gameplay, which could be compared to a puzzle game in some ways - albeit a fairly obscure and exceedingly simple one.
One such 'puzzle' had us stop by an apple tree to catch one as it fell. Items like these are required to trigger certain events later on in the journey, so you'll need the right one at the right time to see everything. A hint system has been added to give visual clues, helping you to learn what these requirements might be. It's not always straightforward logic either, so we definitely needed the helping hand. For example - that aforementioned apple was held up to change the phases of the Moon, which of course makes complete sense. Hints can be turned off if you prefer to go in blind however, and stumble across the answers yourself.
There are more events than ever to come across, thanks mostly to the inclusion of a second playable character. At the beginning of the game you can choose the right or left path, walked by a male and female silhouette respectively. They're both completely different areas, but there is some overlap with how one character can affect the other's area, which makes for a few interesting moments. One of the most welcome changes over the original is the ability to loop back on previously visited areas without having to restart from scratch. You still can't walk backwards, but if you miss an event and need to go back then it's much easier than before. Multiple paths are available by switching signposts, allowing you to return to any event and activate it when necessary.
While the game builds up a sense of wonder and mystique, this effect wears off quickly with repeat playthroughs. As a video game with aspirations of something more, Star Sky 2's unfortunately basic design makes it easy to disassociate from over time, and so immersion is hampered somewhat. The graphics are clean and simple, but animations are extremely lacking in detail and as there's so little input from the player, this is something that definitely could have been improved upon. Events aren't dynamic and spontaneous enough to truly surprise at every turn, so the world's limitations are identified too early on. Stock sound effects are used effectively though, and there's still some charm that lasts all the way to the end.
A standard journey takes about five minutes at most, but you'll need to play multiple times along each path to see it all. If so inclined, this probably adds up to about two hours for a full experience, but a lot of it will be sheer repetition. What you take from that experience will vary greatly from person to person, as there isn't any kind of concrete story to directly capture your imagination. A lot of Star Sky 2 is left to the whim of the player, which is a nice change of pace but left us feeling pretty dissatisfied when all was said and done. We didn't take much meaning from any of the events, and most of the endings were far too similar and vague to add any closure. Most of what occurs is fairly surreal, leaving little to grasp on to and connect to metaphor, even with an open mind. A little bit of structure or a narrative push might have gone a long way to give meaning to the events. As is - it dances the line between relaxing and insubstantial.
Star Sky 2 doesn't want to be a traditional video game, and at its best it manages to provide a relaxing, quiet distraction away from its contemporaries. If you enjoyed the first or were slightly on the fence, then this one improves upon the original formula in many ways, adding more events and fixing plenty of issues by allowing for backtracking, but hasn't innovated enough to garner a wider appeal. A lot of the enjoyment is still left up to the player and their expectations, with little inherent substance to grab and keep direct hold of your attention for long. It's a difficult experience to pin a score on for this reason, but despite the improvements, we're still left wanting something more from any future installments.