Skabma – Snowfall
Video games really are the best thing ever. On the one hand they allow players to do things that they can’t do in real life, like double jumping or throwing fireballs. Other times, they allow you to focus on stories that tell fantastical tales about a culture that’s not really had any mainstream exposure before. Skábma – Snowfall is one of those games that combines both of these traits into one package.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Beautiful story|
+ Relatively easy going
+ Excellent sound design
|Negatives||– The camera does what it wants|
– Dips in performance
– A bit too vague on what to do
|Price (When Reviewed)||£15.49|
|Our Playtime||8 hours|
Skabma – Snowfall stars Áilu, a young member of the nomadic Sámi tribe whose only job is to look after the reindeer for his uncle. He’s the typical young boy slacker and immediately falls asleep on the job, allowing one reindeer to break loose from the camp. From here, the plot takes a sinister turn as Áilu finds out there is a pending environmental disaster looming. After finding a magical Noaidi Drum, we set off and look towards saving the small camp and the land around it.
The Sámi tribes are a semi-nomadic people who were historically located in the area north of Norway, in what is now Lapland, as well as parts of Finland and Russia. Typically their history, folklore and tales are largely oral rather than written, and this is why developers, Red Stage Entertainment, want to highlight these people and tell their story with Skabma. To do this, they’ve poured the fairy tales that were told by the fireside and combined them with the typical day to day living. This is shown with Áilu’s upbringing, raising reindeer for sale and meat are the lifeforce of the Sámi people and how they navigated survival in a time when Vikings were conquering the world. This gives a weight to his uncle’s threats to move him to a different family when the reindeer makes its escape.
Skabma is a narrative driven game and moves from the simplicity of chasing reindeer and introduces magical elements almost immediately. After the beginning of the cataclysmic event, Áilu is visited by the spirit of a long lost protector; it informs him that there’s an ecological disaster just waiting to happen and it’s up to him to find the four Familiar spirits and stop whatever is going to happen. The key to that is the Drum. The Drum aids the exploration by highlighting certain objects and eventually unlocking powers for Áilu, such as a dash move that helps him leap across large ravines.
There’s no physical battles to undertake, as Skabma is more focused on telling a story of the relationship of the tribe and the world around them, but the more I explored, the more I discovered the history and mythologies around the tribe and their battles with outside influence. This might sound like heavy subject matter but because of the way the game is paced, what I learned felt natural and exciting rather than a boring history lesson firing information from start to finish. The game also breaks up the main story with humorous side quests, like finding your cousin’s lost bunny rabbits and trying to stop a teenager being horny with random strangers, all of which softens the tone and gives the game more humanity.
As Áilu sets off on his journey, the mountainous region really pulled me into the game. It was a beautiful vista that’s really well created and as the magic begins to happen, first coming from the Drum and later, the environments around Áilu, things only get better. There is a scene early on in the game that couples the blues and reds sparkling from the Noaidi drum and when it was paired with the view of the northern lights, it was certainly a sight to behold, even when playing on my rickety old PC.
The sound design of Skabma is equally lovely as well. There’s a tribal soundtrack set to the exploration that doesn’t overpower the game, but rather provides a sense of calm. And when Áilu is sitting around a fire, listening to grandma’s folk tales, he’d contribute his drum skills to enhance the story. While the soundtrack won’t have any classic earworms akin to something like Final Fantasy, it was a soothing experience and contributed well to the overall presentation. Where Skabma excels is that the story is narrated in the native Sámi tongue with English subtitles. While I don’t know if the voices were over the top or cheesy, I thoroughly enjoyed the immersion this brought.
As with any game, Skabma isn’t perfect. While exploring the Scandinavian mountain range, I quickly found that the camera would rather look at the ground beneath Áilu’s feet. Working with a controller, the camera simply wouldn’t stay in place and I felt I was adjusting the camera angles more than moving the character throughout. In tight spaces, of which there are many, the camera somehow got worse. It was either too close to see anything or so far away that the environment partially obscured the screen. Switching to the mouse and keyboard layout fared a little better but anything more than the slightest twitch of the mouse resulted in a complete freakout on screen.
The other sticking point was that the objectives weren’t exactly clear. Early on in the game you’re set the task of healing a character who falls ill. I progressed to a point where I thought the mission was completed – giving the medicine to the right person. Looking at the objective list though, I found it wasn’t crossed off, so I ambled around trying to work out what to do. I eventually figured out the resolution but having been guided through the objective to suddenly be left to my own devices was a bit jarring. This isn’t a one off either. In Skabma, you’re often left it; there’s no map or any form of guidance, so I often felt a bit lost trying to find the next step of the game. It wasn’t too much of a problem, as I was happy to enjoy the environment, but it was needlessly vague.
Skabma – Snowfall tells a beautiful story of the Sami people. While the story weaves through realistic situations of survival, it’s coupled with a magical and mystical folklore that has not been told in such a way before. The visuals are brilliantly represented and having the game told in the Sami language was refreshing. There are some issues with the camera and the lack of clarity on some missions did leave me scratching my head, but the message that Red Stage set out to tell works brilliantly and is an experience I’d want to play again, despite the pitfalls.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.