Okay, I’m a little late with this one. Call it a personal failing on my part, but I seem to deprioritize playing games on subscription services like Netflix and Apple Arcade compared to games I’ve paid money for upfront. As someone who enjoyed developer Snowman’s previous efforts, I made it a point to download Laya’s Horizon (Free) as soon as it was available. And then that poor little icon sat on my home screen, all lonely-like, until a couple weeks ago. Well, better late than never.
Laya’s Horizon fascinates me on a conceptual level. In the broad sense, this is very much a focused experience. One could almost call it one-note, if one was being unkind. You leap off of a perch and use your cape to glide downward, eventually either reaching a landing point or crashing. Along the way you’ll check off goals from a list that constantly offers up new tasks as old ones are cleared, unlocking goodies as you go. Imagine this as a 2D game and you could almost see it as a game from that exciting early era of smartphone gaming, where quality pick-up-and-play experiences fell out of every tree one deigned to shake. It feels like a pure mobile experience, and I mean that in a good way.
But Laya’s Horizon isn’t a 2D game, is it? You aren’t flying on tiny wings over flat peaks and valleys in this one. No, you’ve got a massive sprawling 3D world in front of you. Shuffle around, pick a direction, and take a leap. With a bit of careful flying, you can go pretty much anywhere you see. You’re still ultimately bound by gravity, so you’ll have to touch ground eventually. As such, I won’t call this a true open world game, but it’s sure open enough. The accessible world feels big even at the start, and it only seems to grow the more you play. You’ll unlock new peaks to start from, new capes, and new trinkets, all of which allow you to tailor your experience to suit your skills or the task you’re aiming at.
There are a couple of things you can aim at, apart from simply enjoying the pleasures of flying. Various characters with tasks for you to complete or events to participate in are strewn around the world for you to encounter, and most of them will offer up a series of challenges that ultimately reward you with a prize of some kind. There are also research tasks given to you outside of any of those NPCs. Completing a set will level you up, a process which also gives you rewards. These tasks start off almost tutorial-esque, but eventually feel like dares to show off your mastery of the map and your flying skills.
The flying is at the core of the game, and it embraces touch controls perfectly. You can slow or speed up your descent by sliding up or down with both of your thumbs, make a light turn by sliding one of your thumbs, make a sharp turn by sliding your thumbs in opposite directions, and use a turbo boost by sliding both thumbs inward. I’m looking at that sentence and I think I’ve made the controls out to be more confusing than they are. They certainly take some getting used to, but the stakes are low enough that you have more than enough space to do your baby bird thing. I find the way the game plays perfectly straddles ease of use with depth, and the joy of mastering your gliding skills sits at the forefront of the overall experience. Oh, and there is partial controller support if that’s your preference.
With this being a game from Snowman, however, the quality goes beyond the solid mechanics. The world of Laya’s Horizon is marvelous in its design, with plenty of charm to burn. You can always spot several points of interest no matter where you are, and the whole thing just looks beautiful. I really appreciate the color choices in particular. The writing has a lot of character, and it helps bring the NPCs to life in a big way despite most of them having relatively small parts. The audio is similarly endearing, stirring and serene as it needs to be, truly selling the feel of soaring through the air without all that noisy, windy reality.
Indeed, I can’t find many things to complain about with Laya’s Horizon as a game. It looks and sounds great. It plays well and gives you plenty to do if you’re looking to do something, while also allowing you to enjoy doing nothing in particular if that’s your present preference. It will entertain you for minutes or hours as you like. The only consideration is that it is tied to having a Netflix subscription, which unfortunately means its existence is potentially volatile. If you have a Netflix subscription, make sure you give it a try.