Digital Gems is our weekly column where we highlight contemporary and classic downloadable games that we think are worth your attention.
Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been in a constant state of trying and failing to detox from this past season. After playing what felt like a million games this spring, and deciding to dive right into another long game after it (Gravity Rush 2), I’ve been in dire need of something bite-sized to fill my time. I found myself browsing my obtusely large game folder on my phone this weekend, when I stumbled on a game I forgot I even owned: Glitchskier, the latest game from developer Shelly Alon that released this past February.
Glitchskier is a blissful bullethell. It has upgradable weapons, bosses, and a clever art style: the game’s screen is perpetually curved, as if playing on an old computer from the 1980s. Thematically, the game’s start menu plops you onto a desktop, clicking through folders to uncover the game itself (an .exe file, of course). There’s also other tidbits of information (buried in .info and .txt files) about the game hidden within, and beyond.
The Germany-based Alon’s past games couldn’t be more different when glancing at the surface. Partyrs is a puzzle game about keeping all the sweet critters at a party happy. Sputnik Eyes, on the contrary, is a logic based puzzle game. In it, the player helps intertwine a bunch of eyes to reach their goal, the end result a web of connections. Glitchskier shies away from Alon’s puzzle-focused past. It’s an arcade bullethell, with a drastically different aesthetic to boot.
When Glitchskier gets going, and your finger drags across the phone’s screen with increasing tension, it becomes infectious. The pulsing electronic music scored by Tom Schley absorbs you; with each bullet shot by your vessel, a crunchy sound emanates. With every enemy destroyed, another sound pings. Throughout the game, you “download” miscellaneous files you stumble across, and shoot at anything red in your path (everything white is impassable). Glitchskier is a no-fuss bullethell, but a highly polished and good-looking one at that.
Glitchskier—despite being enjoyable to play—is notable for its art style and sounds, and how intrinsically tied they are. As Superhot did last year with its deeply meta-game of playing a game within a computer, as is Glitchskier, as the player seemingly “hacks” (or rather, a gamified vision of hacking) through a computer. The computer is glitchy and unpolished, with every object obliterated spitting out a cacophony of pixels. In some areas, loosened letters from code hang. A game over isn’t a game over at all: it reads “process ended.”
These stylistic flourishes put Glitchskier above a lot of bullethell games of its ilk. After all, the best mobile games are the ones that use their compactness to go beyond expectations and bend genre conventions, as I wrote that Swap Sword did for the Match 3 genre. Glitchskier may be a mechanically tight and rightfully fast-paced bullethell at its core, but it’s a frenetic glitch heaven above all else. Glitchskier is available for $1.99 on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac.