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Wot I Think: Skyhill

He should just order in.

As if humanity could ever construct a building 100 floors high! But that disbelief suspended, Skyhill [official site] otherwise tells the tale of a man attempting to escape from an invasion of monstrous beasts through super-streamlined arcade survival, in a minimalist rogue-lite. Here's wot I think:

Skyhill is that rather pleasant surprise of good ideas delivered without fuss. A hundred storey tower to descend, lots of monsters to thwart your progress, and perma-death when your insides are on the outsides. Along the way you gather items, craft weapons, food and gear, and even fill the building’s penthouse apartment with improved furniture. Because why let a world-ending monstrous invasion prevent interior decorating? Feng-shui those bastards to death.

The tower is presented in a 2D cut-through, each floor divided into three – a room either side and a central lift shaft and stairway between. You move from room to room in single turns, hoping to stumble upon welcome items, and not the strange, slavering beasts that appear to have taken over the Earth. You’re hungry, see, and you don’t want to starve to death on the 100th floor of some building.

Combat is especially clever in its simplicity. In the turn-based attacks, you can choose to aim for different regions of an enemy, the chances of hitting lower the higher the potential damage will be. So do you whack at their torso for a couple of points of damage, with a 90% chance of making contact, or risk a 50% bop to its head for a meatier chunk? If you miss, there’s a good chance it won’t, and you could get yourself in a scrape. Balancing the odds, chipping away at the given hitpoints of the beast, is a neat way of approaching the fights.

Also to worry about is hunger. Rather than the more traditional annoyance, here it’s really just another stat to balance, another plate to spin. Each time you change rooms you lose one point of hunger from a maximum of 100. There’s food to find as you go, more nutritious if cooked, so you need to ensure you’re keeping on top of that too.

You’ll want to backtrack, too, since you have a crafting table in your VIP suite at the top, which you’ll need for improving your chances. Floors with working elevator doors give you quick access, but the many that don’t will see you struggling back up the steps. With gathered or crafted items, you can then create better furniture – bed, workbench, kitchen and door – which will improve your chances further. Good solid doors make you less likely to get attacked when sleeping, and doing that on a nicer bed will give you more health. Kitchen upgrades open up new cooking recipes, while boosting your workbench offers new crafting.

Death, and death will come, greets you with new “perks” for the next time you play, which give you stat boosts, or extra puff when you’re close to death, or a solid meal in your backpack before you start. You pick two from your ever-growing pool. Disappointingly, some don’t seem to work properly – “Addict” is supposed to render you immune to poison, and it certainly doesn’t. (And I’m not entirely convinced by the “bulimia” perk, where you require less food with an added risk of harm from eating – that seems entirely unnecessarily tasteless.) Perhaps they’ll help you last a little longer next time. Perhaps you’ll get luckier with what you find, what you can craft. Or perhaps you’ll get blatted by the first enemy you meet.

While there are new crafting recipes to find, and better weapons to create, there is perhaps too little variation in the game. It’s compulsive, clicking down just one more floor, hoping for a medkit, or the missing ingredient to make a medkit, and not to encounter some new, bigger, scarier monster to fight. And then calculating if you think you can play the odds of the combat to win that fight, or disappear off to scavenge. The deeper you get, the more you’ll face dilemmas. (Great cars.) Should you head back up to the VIP room to sleep off some food to gain some health? Or do you need to find more food for that? And oh shit, you’re poisoned! Can you find some antibiotics to mix with mutant blood to create an antidote before your health ticks down completely?!

But still, it’s undeniably repetitive. I like the game a lot, and in a large part because of its simplicity. But it’s certainly walking a fine line, possibly limiting how many times someone might want to take another trip down its randomly generated tower knowing they’ve encountered many of its surprises.

Still, that doesn’t seem to stop me from wanting one more go. Which is probably the most important thing.

Skyhill is out now for Windows and Mac via Steam and Humble.

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