When it comes to interactive storytelling, meaningful player choice is what writers and designers strive for. In most cases, they fail to find the perfect balance between gamer influence and storytelling.
If you give players too much choice, you risk losing the intended story, while dangling the carrot of choice but making it meaningless defeats the purpose entirely. With Crow, Sunside Games has placed themselves into the minority that understands how to craft this balance.
As the title suggests, you play from the perspective of a Crow being controlled by a dark voice in its mind. The crow’s only act of free will is to spare or curse (kill) the foes that it is led to fight. This is where player choice comes in: you can please the voice by cursing your enemies or anger it through defiance.
Cursing the enemy will award you an upgradable skill that can’t be obtained otherwise while sparing it gives you a ton of points. The story’s strong writing really gives emotional depth to your decision, as cursing a harmless being for your own gain can make you question your own morals.
Crow’s levels are broken into two phases. The first phase involves guiding the crow around a map with your finger and tapping on gems you come across, which are converted to skill points when enough are collected. Each level has story segments that explain what’s going on, a challenge level and a boss level scattered around the environment. To quickly navigate the environment, you can pinch out and tap where you’d like to explore.
The meat of Crow lies in its challenge and boss levels, which are rail shooters along the lines of Star Fox. You can drag anywhere on the screen to swiftly move the crow. When your health/energy gauge is full, tapping it slows down the game and allows you to unleash an attack or shield the crow. Challenge levels task you with getting to the end without dying while boss levels keep the crow in a looping path until you deplete the enemy’s health bar.
You start off with three skills to upgrade, with a total of seven in the game. These vary from faster energy regeneration to allowing for two attacks each time your energy fills up to a longer lasting shield. The downside is that you can easily fully upgrade most, if not all, skills if you collect the majority of gems. As was previously stated, most of these skills can only be unlocked by cursing foes, although those trying for high scores or greater challenge should opt for the “spare” option.
There are some features missing in Crow. For one, it can be easily beaten in three or four hours with no reason to return other than high scores. It hurts the game that you can only replay challenge levels and not boss fights or free-roam environments. The latter is especially a shame as the beautiful landscapes are an excellent way to show off hardware.
However, Crow is still worth experiencing as there’s nothing quite like it. This is one of those instances where a game is at its best when you go into it blind. As much as we’d love for the option to replay full stages, there’s enough here to make Crow worth $5, even if it’s just for one playthrough.