Crow is a rather interesting new title from Sunside Games. It combines great visuals and atmosphere with some very unique gesture based gameplay to deliver an original game that is truly unlike anything else you'll play. Unfortunately, while the concept is cool and artistic, the execution leaves much to be desired, with some confusing gameplay elements, an initially hard to follow story, and some weak and restrictive design choices.
Essentially, Crow borrows a lot of ideas and imagery from various mythologies. You play as the crow, and you're guided by a very old and clearly nefarious spirit. He sends you out to fight and sacrifice various spiritual guardians. There is, however, a spirit of benevolence that is trying to pull you away from evil, and whether you give in to the darkness or the light is your choice, as you can spare or sacrifice each guardian.
The writing is a mixed bag. On one hand, it has some pretty prose and apt word choice, but in terms of conveying the plot, it's initially hard to follow. You eventually catch on to things, but unfortunately, the story isn't the only confusing aspect.
Gameplay is divided into two segments. One is an exploration phase, in which you soar high in the sky and seek out trinkets, plot points, and combat phases. Combat phases are essentially on rails segments, with lots of attack dodging and gesture based spell-casting. Your energy meter, which doubles as your health meter, allows you to cast various spells, including a basic attack and shield spell when full. All those trinkets that you collect in both modes eventually translate into skill points, which let you upgrade the crow with better spells, regenerating health, and more.
While all of that is well and good, it can feel directionless. It takes a while to get used to each gameplay aspect. It's nice that the game doesn't hold your hand, but when a game is so unique and also touch-based, it would be nice to have more instruction. The rails segments can also be very repetitive and monotonous. If you miss an enemy, or if you don't have enough attack energy when the time comes, you loop around the entire circuit again, which will happen to you a lot as the battles introduce different mechanics.
The presentation here is off-the-charts awesome. The visuals are very well done, with the exception of a few bad character models and animations. The fantastic musical score can be very ambient or very exciting, and always supports the story. Despite the confusing nature of the story, it can be quite effective. When given the choice to do good or evil in a game, I always do evil, because I'm depraved like that. In this game, as in many, I felt really, really, really bad for it. Especially when given the choice to sacrifice a mythical creature that was the last of its kind. I was so sad afterwards.
To sum up, this is a somewhat clunky and confusing game, but it's also very atmospheric, dark, and interesting. If you like games that are unique and experimental, this is your game. If gameplay far outweighs those aspects of design for you, there's a strong chance that you'll find this to be boring or annoying. I belong to the former camp, and strongly feel that the positives outweigh the negatives. Crow is iOS Universal and available for five dollars at the time of this review. It's a bit pricey, sure, but I was able to enjoy it despite the frustrating aspects. How about you?