With recent revivals of gaming legends like Pac-Man and the instantly recognisable Q*Bert reboot hitting the stores once more, one has to wonder what a mixture of these two retro beasts would produce. Funnily enough, Skyling: Garden Defense – which isn’t of the tower defense genre as some would presume – attempts to create a merging of those greats, throwing in a spot of Crystal Castles and adding its own flavour in too. Have Mighty Studios cooked up a perfect retro inspired storm or will it lurk in the deep, dark shadows of those it wished to emulate?

Skyling: Garden Defense is best described as a 2D isometric maze game which brings a lot of classic game play styles together and welds them with a colourful world that’s blooming again. And Bloom, in fact, is the name of the titular character and the sole inhabitant of the Skyling world since the Blight Monsters came and wrecked the entire natural plantation, thus forcing the rest of the Skylings to flee. It’s left to Bloom to fight back and allow her blossoming gift of life to touch these brown wastelands currently bereft of colour.

That’s the story in a nutshell and although it’s not very in-depth, with all details being told within about ten seconds, it at least provides a background to proceedings. So, what on earth does this young girl have to do to restore nature to the place? The concept is pretty straightforward in that the sole aim of all the maze wandering is to walk over every square in the level, then the exit will open up and you can get on your merry way. You get more points for doing it quickly and for picking up any fruits that sprout up which in turn gives a higher star rating. As simple as A…B…C…

Or is it?

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Nothing is ever as easy as it looks at first glance and developers Mighty Studio have made sure the Blight Monsters are a real thorn in your side. And boy did they irritate me, especially when it wasn’t initially clear as to the way the enemies could prove helpful. Anyway, there are five main enemy types and a number of sleeping cats, but these are no threat to you whatsoever. Instead the cats serve as a blockade to be picked up and placed anywhere. I’m digressing; all the enemies have strict rules on what they are able to do and how their movements can be a threat to you.

For example, the purple Ogres can only traverse on squares with stones on, whereas the flying Bat goes back and forth to tangle you up, slowing you down, should Bloom cross its path but is the only enemy that doesn’t bring an abrupt end to the level. The green Chomper is an absolute pain in the backside though, for it can roam anywhere as long as there’s no jumping involved and with no set pattern you just have to move like your life depends on it. There’s the Sluggies which want to eat up all the life you bring to the world and the Rook that can only move in straight lines when you’re in sight.

I appreciate the variety these bring to the dynamics of figuring out how to navigate around them however, it’s annoying how random some of the movements can be. It’d be good to work out an obvious pattern of the Ogre but once there are a few roaming the stones, they bombard into each other and become really unpredictable. Fortunately, the Sluggies can be picked up and thrown to take out a couple of the other nuisances, whilst Rooks are useful to trap enemies for tactical advantage in exploring the board fully.

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As far as longevity goes, the 30 levels included will probably only take a couple of hours to complete if you manage them first time around. I doubt that’ll happen though as there’s a steady incline of the difficulty level where the amount of squares to cover increases, an absurd amount of deadly monsters are thrown in or just a really tricky maze layout with elevated parts and gates to open are your peril.

It really gets on your nerves when you’re so close to finishing a level, only for a misguided movement of the analog stick to send you to a swift death. The controls are really easy to pick up but due to the diagonal manoeuvres at all times, I’ve noticed it goes slightly awry through no fault of my own – I promise. Not a game killer but irritating nonetheless.

When I fail to complete a level due to sheer lack of skill to plot a safe path for myself, I don’t have to slave away for hours, moaning at how hard it is or blaming a small child for distracting and causing my death. This is because Mighty Studios have allowed all of the levels to be unlocked once you’ve got past the first three. Good call. It meant I could skip ahead and work through as many as I can for now and forget the rest until there’s no others left.

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Aesthetically Skyling: Garden Defense won’t blow you away, but there’s a clear effort on providing plenty of colours pleasing to the eye and making sure that all enemies are well distinguished. Likewise, the soundtrack is nothing more than decent, just adding a chipper feel to the goings on.

There are a few clever nuances in the way certain levels can be completed; where using the blockade cats, enemies themselves and the lay of the land, are useful to achieve success. I was surprised at the enjoyment, and a bit of adrenaline, garnered from being chased around and subsequently from reaching the exits. The downsides come in the form of controls being a small issue and the unpredictable nature of enemies can make it far too difficult.

Not looking down on Skyling: Garden Defense, but you can’t expect a fifty hour, graphically supreme, puzzling masterclass for £3.99. What you do get is a pleasant maze experience full of vibrancy, highs and lows, and a very good game that takes inspiration from the classics to give itself a cute retro identity.

A little bit of fun for all the family to enjoy.

Related: Let’s Play Skyling: Garden Defense on Xbox One

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