Summary Judgment: Castles in the Sky
I used to be an idealist. Maybe I still am, a little; a flame still desperately flickering against the wind and the dark. When I was younger, I made a point to always look for the best in things, to always believe that people could be better and that deep down, we’d make things work somehow. I used to always hold the thought that it would be okay to be wrong if it meant being happy, and that believing in something could be more important than being right all the time.
I’m not really sure when that changed.
Castles in the Sky by The Tall Trees wants me to believe that it never did. This is a small game, a simple game, with objectives that are loose and actions that aren’t really tied to a huge goal. The player is a boy jumping up through the clouds while heartfelt piano music plays in the background and a poem gently unfolds itself on the sky.
The “message” here, if there is one, isn’t blasted from the mountaintops. The game isn’t trying to shove a moral in my face. It’s not trying to challenge me or make me think that the way I look at things is wrong or stupid. It is what it is. It’s a boy, jumping through the clouds. And the story that’s told is a straightforward one, the kind my parents would have read me as a child.
I used to be this boy, once. I think I did, at least. Video games were right there with me, too. Every new game was a new castle in the sky, a new place to go, a new thing to see. It’s all I wanted, really; something new to see and do.
It’d be easy for a cynical 20-something writer not unlike me to look at Castles in the Sky and say “That’s it?” There isn’t exactly a ton of content here, although the game’s price is absolutely justified at $1.50. I beat the game in less than an hour, if we can call what I did “beating” anything. This is a bedtime story, a poem, a song. Asking for more just doesn’t make sense. It’d be like asking to prolong the time before falling asleep once I’d gotten in bed. It’s a special time, but we all have to go to sleep sometime.
I’ve noticed that there’s a sort of resistance to games like this building up in a lot of communities. This kind of indie game is rapidly starting to be viewed as “pretentious” in some way, or worse yet, “hipstery”, my favorite non-criticism. When I played Gone Home, when I played The Stanley Parable, I didn’t feel like I was playing something pretentious. I felt like I was playing something with a unified message and purpose, something we don’t often see.
That’s what Castles in the Sky is. A unified thing. A simple, beautiful, heartbreaking experience that makes me wonder where I went wrong. A bedtime story told to the child who is falling asleep inside me, or perhaps has already been dozing for these last few years.
I’m hoping he doesn’t stay asleep long. I might be lost without him.
Castles in the Sky is available directly from the developer, The Tall Trees. It’s $1.50 for Windows and OSX via their Humble Store link, and comes with the beautiful soundtrack as well as some wallpapers, one of which I used for the above image.