Lila’s Sky Ark review: A Wild Ride Through a Drug-Induced Fever Dream
As someone who hasn’t done much recreational mind expansion, I’m not really sure what it feels like to drop acid. But after playing Lila’s Sky Ark, I feel like the people that developed it might have a pretty good idea. It’s a fascinating and truly unique tale that is set in a neon-hued, watercolor world. It’s a place full of gigantic animal deities, lazy bee matriarchs, helpful reapers, angry musicians and even a one-eyed robotic father figure. You play an innocent young woman that is beset by deep, dark emotions that contrast with the pleasant world she finds herself in. What this Lila’s Sky Ark review will endeavor to answer is whether the game ever goes beyond its style, or whether it’s a perplexing stroll through an inexplicable world.
I should note, Lila’s Sky Ark is a prequel to a game called Resolutiion, also by Monolith of Minds. Sadly I wasn’t able to play Resolutiion before this, but being a prequel and all, hopefully I didn’t miss too much context. With that out of the way, let’s talk about what Lila’s Sky Ark does well.
Tiptoe Through the Tulips
One of my favorite things about the game is just exploring this dreamy, weird world. It plays a lot like an erstwhile Zelda game, and you’ll gradually come across upgrades that expand where you can wander. There are also plenty of fast travel postal boxes that help you get around quicker. The foes you face are all rather strange, from angry boulder people that try and crash into you to angry bee soldiers and horrifying flying banshee heads. Each realm has a distinct flavor. The forest exudes a dark green quiet and the lofty orange cliffs are overseen by strange smiling faces. Most terrifying is the underground den filled with shadowy monsters. Each and every corner of Lila’s Sky Ark is a delight to the senses, and equal parts wonderful and perplexing.
Likewise, the game also features a bunch of fun and generally intuitive puzzles to solve. These can involve lifting and moving objects to leaping across moving platforms. Pretty basic stuff but well executed regardless. Where things start to get a bit complicated is the combat in the game. I compared it earlier to a Zelda game. And while that’s true, there’s one big difference. Imagine a Zelda game in which you have no Master Sword. Yes, in Lila’s Sky Ark you don’t have a dedicated attack tool for most of the game. Instead, your primary method of dealing damage is grabbing and throwing random stuff. At first, all you can throw are smaller boxes, vases, and rocks. But as you progress, Lila will be able to lift and toss heavier objects as well.
Most of the smaller to medium sized objects can be stored in Lila’s backpack. This automatically sorts them by type, and even lets you search through them rapidly. I only have one problem with this idea: you can’t seem to increase the number of items you can store in the backpack. I found the maximum was 10 items – period. That includes healing items as well as attack items. That’s a shockingly small amount, especially when you factor in items vary as far as how much damage they inflict and how far you can throw them. You can get an idea for these parameters in the compendium, but even that’s not super helpful since it lacks a clear display of each item’s parameters. Instead, it kind of gives you a poetic impression of what they are capable of, which is a bit problematic.
Now, in fairness you can find item recipes to help Lila craft more powerful items. The trick is those all require the game’s currency to create, and I never had a lot of that to spare. Worse, there are some items you have to hold the entire time you use them, such as a boot that makes Lila incredibly fast, but only while she’s holding it. This whole system could have worked much better if you gradually found ways to increase the size of Lila’s backpack, much like boosting the size of Link’s wallet in the Zelda games. Unfortunately, I never found any way to do so, which made all the decisions on what to hold in my backpack life or death. Especially when Lila has to face one of the game’s powerful bosses.
Rock Out Against These Bosses
I really enjoyed some of the bosses in Lila’s Sky Ark. Most of them are angry musicians with an axe to grind, and who are invading the land using airships. Which doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it matches the surreal quality of the rest of the game. Each one you defeat reveals a hidden truth behind Lila’s situation. The first one is a furious drummer that forces you to nimbly avoid his funky beats as you hurl junk at his face. There’s also a great battle against a diabolical pianist that goes full bullet hell, hurling strings of angry notes at you.
The second boss battle in the game is against the Quartet. Like the name suggests, they’re a group of four. At first they attack you one at a time, then in groups, and then all at once. And the only way to restock attack items while this is happening is by running to the vending machines on either side of the arena, frantically generating items, and praying they’ll be useful. Another frustrating battle is against a giant floating head that continuously summons more minions to assault you, then attack you when you’re distracted. The bosses are all right, but they lack balance in a game that already has a woefully awkward combat system.
Get a Little Lost
While most of the game goes pretty swiftly, there are a handful of optional quests to keep you playing. One of my favorites is simply bringing eyeballs to a creepy witch. She rewards you with all sorts of helpful items, and even some useless ones, such as eyeglasses for a certain robot. My biggest issue with the sidequests is that many of them feature less than clear objectives, and the game isn’t great about clarifying things. Which brings me to what I consider the weakest part of the game: the final chapter.
Lila’s Sky Ark is broken up into a handful of chapters. The first several are all pretty linear, and have her wandering into a new realm, finding a dungeon, defeating the boss, getting a new ability, rinse and repeat. That may dissuade some gamers, but I was totally fine with this setup. My problem came from when I got to the last chapter, and suddenly had no clear idea what to do. Even after I was provided a guide to assist me, it was clear how unintuitive and frustrating this portion of the game was. You’re set on a series of mandatory fetch quests just to finally reach the final boss and uncover the truth of the game. And honestly, most folks probably won’t have the patience to figure out this convoluted final arc.
Visually, Lila’s Sky Ark is a wonderful game that’s full of crazy and unique ideas. I really appreciate that design, and it’s a large reason I decided to review the title. Likewise, the music is pretty keen in the game, and kept me engaged as I was playing. There are some really bombastic sound effects, though I do wish enemies had clearer sound cues before they attacked. If I was going just off the visuals and music, the game would have gotten a much higher score.
Time to Wake Up
I wish I could end on a high note, but Lila’s Sky Ark was more creative than it was memorable. While you can beat the game in less than a dozen hours, you’ll probably spend more just trying to fulfill the final mission. And while I did enjoy wandering around this weird world, ultimately some bad combat decisions and a lack of balance hurt my immersion. If you’re a big fan of action adventure and like games just for the sake of weirdness, I’d still give this a shot. For everybody else, this probably isn’t your game.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Graffiti Games; Developer: Monolith of Minds; Players: 1; Released: April 21, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen – Fantasy Violence, Language; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.