Some games ask you to wade through hundreds of enemies, gunning or slashing your way to victory. Some games ask you click on them every five minutes to milk your cow or drown the world in cookies. Then you have games that ask you for nothing, except to enjoy the experience they provide you with. Experiential games use music, beautiful design, and simple mechanics to become more than just a game. They become art. Here are a few mobile games, available for iOS and Android, that are almost too pretty to play.
Gathering Sky, by A Stranger Gravity, plays like a moving painting. In the game, you control a bird flying across the sky. Swipe control allows you to guide your bird around obstacles, into jet streams, and alongside other birds who will join your flock when you get near enough. Because the controls are so simple, it is easy to let yourself focus on the artwork of the game. The brightly colored backgrounds, by Crystal Ngai, float past in six different beautiful levels. You’ll fly over fields, oceans, mountains, and even through violent storms.
The art isn’t the only thing you’ll get caught up in though. Gathering Sky also features stunning music composed by Dren McDonald (Plants vs. Zombies & Transformers:Age of Extinction) and recorded live at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The score is emotive and creates an almost meditative environment when paired with the game play. The game is gentle, but thrilling in its own way. Those times when your birds steer into a breeze and get caught in its swirling winds, or a hungry hawk dives into your flock, throws this otherwise peaceful moments in to turmoil. Despite this, Gathering Sky is a fantastic way to relax after a stressful day.
Joel McDonald’s Prune introduces you to a ravaged planet. The barren wasteland allows only a few slivers of sunlight to reach the surface, and it is your job to guide the growth of tiny sprouts into the life-giving light. Once again, the controls for the game are easy to pick up. You simply swipe up from a patch of dirt to start your tiny tree growing. Swiping at branches will cut them away, giving the tree a little extra energy to grow with and guiding its shape. Once the tree hits sunlight it will begin to sprout flowers and if you manage to grow enough blossoms you will complete the level.
The game boils down the art of bonsai to a few fleeting minutes of game play. Using only a few colors, Prune manages to illustrate the fragile beauty of nature surrounded by decaying technology. For as tranquil as the first few levels appear, just like Gathering Sky, the game does have its tense moments. The poisonous red sun and inexplicable spinning blades can be frustrating, but the sense of triumph you feel at surpassing them is worth it. Prune is a game of hope and stark beauty in the face of bleak odds.
Monument Valley is a puzzle game developed by USTWO. The gorgeously illustrated levels seem like something straight out of an M.C. Escher drawing. Optical illusions form the basis for the puzzles within the game. You’ll need to manipulate the pathways that your character, Princess Ida, walks in order to get to the exit of each level.
Along the way, chattering crow people will block your path, but with a little abstract thinking, you can easily avoid them. It is amazing how much design and story this charming little game packs into 45 minutes. Monument Valley has won a ton of awards in the past two years for its art direction, visuals, and audio design. It is definitely worth checking out.
Featured Image Credit: USTWO