Created by a group of students from DigiPen, Return to the Sky is a 2D escape platformer where players take on the role of an anthropomorphic lunar satellite on a mission to save her star-children. The game takes place on a fictional world, whose inhabitants have harvested the stars for energy after thoroughly exhausting their own world’s resources.
Running across the rooftops of the offending city, the protagonist runs, jumps, and wall jumps while attempting to outrun ever present purple skull that slowly closes in on the avatar and will consume her if it catches her. Collectible stars in the dozen levels will push back the skull, giving players precious seconds to complete the levels.
Mechanically, the game is unambitious and sometimes borders into tedium. The complexity of levels that test players’ wall-jumping and timed jumping doesn’t ramp up until the end, and even then I managed to beat nine or ten of the twelve levels without dying once. I will say that the functional purpose of collecting star pieces was a neat implementation that added just the right amount of tension to game. There’s also a couple of leaps of faith that were genuinely thrilling and were the result of an unspoken repertoire between me and the designer.
While the mechanics are lacking, what makes Return to the Sky so great are all the visual and aural elements. The sprite art of the main character is incredibly well done, as is the giant skull and background. The city itself relies too much on the same color palette and repeating sections unfortunately, making the foreground a bit dull. Watching the animation of the lunar rogue here to save her children makes up for it though, as she ends up being the focus of attention anyway.
The music is fantastic as well. Using the raised seventh on a minor scale, the music has a middle-eastern flair without dipping into Spanish music. Electric guitars and other stringed and electronic instruments make up a fantastic soundtrack to the game.
While the execution as a whole is lacking, Return to the Sky is a game worth checking out, especially as you can pick it up for free at the DigiPen site here.