...Not just for your lawn anymore!
Garden gnomes have long been the bane of many child's existence -- wait, who are we kidding? They're terrifying no matter how old you are. Their dead-eyed stare, their gnarled features, the way they seem to watch you no matter what you're doing...they're just creepy. That's why we approached Sky Gnomes with trepidation, but in the process discovered a novel twist on the mobile racing genre. Foursaken Media has crafted a multiplayer-centric hit that takes pages from some of the most popular games out there right now and makes them all its own. It's an interesting perspective that's worth picking up and sticking with, as long as you're willing to put in the time required to shine.
Sky Gnomes sends lawn gnomes hurtling through the sky toward the ground at a breakneck pace. The gnomes freefall their way to a landing pad waiting at the end of their dangerous dive, all the while competing against other players. Variable weather conditions, powerups, and other obstacles make sometimes useful (and other times infuriating) diversions, and you're always looking to better your score. Whether you're going on a run for coins or avoiding any type of tempting item to shave seconds off of your score, there's plenty to do.
As your gnome plummets to the ground you're in charge of navigating via yoke, conveniently placed at the bottom of the screen. It's a bit touchy to fully grasp when you first hop in the driver's seat, and as a result your first few races showcase just how much of a learning experience Sky Gnomes can be. When you're not struggling to properly guide your gnome to a safe finish, grabbing all the powerups you can along the way, you're forcing the device to simply recognize your input.
Usage of the accelerometer would have been the best way to go here, but unfortunately it's not an option. Luckily you can get a decent feel for how you need to approach each race after your first few go-arounds, but it's an area that certainly needs a little work. It's not an immersion-breaking issue, but a future update supporting tilt-to-play would be a boon to all players.
The multiplayer component of Sky Gnomes is where things get interesting. The game, via wi-fi connection and micro-tournament matching, breaks you off into a group of ten players for each day of play. After you're sectioned off into a class all your own, you've got all day to compete with your nine new "enemies" for the best times. Victory brings spoils such as prizes and trophies -- plus the chance to take on even harder opponents the next time you decide to play.
This type of matching system ensures you're always able to find someone to play with, and provides an easily attainable goal to shoot for. If you're feeling particularly skillful, micro-missions allow you to pull off some difficult tricks for extra incentives -- addictive practices, to say the least.
The five quick minutes you intended to play for quickly turn into an hour, and so on. The drive to best the strangers you find yourself matched with is a strong motivator, especially when it's easy to become quickly outclassed due to the somewhat lopsided advantages of those who continually grind.
However, the pick up and play nature of Sky Gnomes is offset by the lack of variety between each course, and choosing to pay to advance and upgrade your ships and other inventory soon looks like the best course of action to take when faced with seemingly unbeatable odds. Those who put an astronomical amount of hours in will often emerge victorious, which is fair, but lopsided matchmaking doesn't help matters.
Still, despite its hiccups, Sky Gnomes is a fast-paced, thrilling racer that rewards players who give it their fair dues -- serving up lighthearted, playful visuals, and plenty to race toward, if you'll forgive our pun. Improved matchmaking and the addition of tilt-to-play could easily bring it up to "essential app" status, but for now it serves as a great springboard for bigger and better things -- just try and remind yourself that you won't win every single tournament, every day.