Games for the Weekend is a weekly feature aimed at helping you avoid doing something constructive with your downtime. Each Friday we’ll be recommending a game for Mac, iPhone or iPad that we think is awesome enough to keep you busy until Monday, at least.
Sky Gnomes ($0.99 Universal) is a unique social racing game where you customize snow machines driven by gnomes. Powered by snow, it is more difficult that you would think to catch the power-boosting snowflakes as you hurl garden gnomes towards the ground.
The concept is simple: You maneuver your snow machine in what can only be described as a controlled fall with a virtual joystick. The physics behind each snowflake are impressive, as catching them proves to be just as difficult as trying to catch a snowflake on your tongue in real life. As you catch each snowflake you are rewarded with a power boost, which speeds you toward the landing pad even faster. The more snowflakes you catch in rapid succession, the faster you boost your snow machine toward the finish line.
Just when you think you are getting the hang of your snow machine, you start to realize that you are actually racing against other online garden gnomes, who are each learning to master their snow machines as well. Like clockwork, every 24 hours the band of 10 competing gnomes you are grouped with perfect their skill and improve on their race times. The goal is the same as in any race, to be the fastest. But don’t worry too much about being grouped with fellow racers that leave you behind. Each day you are re-grouped into a league of 10 based on your prior day’s performance. And it really does a good job at pairing you up with similarly skilled opponents.
Just like the real racing world, its not all about the skill of the driver. You have access to what appears to be an infinitely configurable snow machine. There are your basic upgrades like speed and acceleration. But to keep things interesting, you are limited to three trinket slots on your snow machine, and there are 15 different trinkets with three different upgrade levels each to choose from. Each trinket modifies the flying characterizing of your snow machine in different ways. There are also four racing power ups to choose from that give you added abilities during each race, like increasing the time of each boost period. Experimenting with each different ability, trinket and power up is what keeps the game interesting. As you near the end of each 24-hour segment, you are forced to make some hard choices as to which combination works best for you.
All modifications and power ups are purchased with coins you collect by winning races, achieving objectives and placing in the top three each day. There are even coins you can collect during the race. This can be a distraction from catching snowflakes if you do not happen to have the Coin Furnace trinket, which powers your snow machine with coins as well as snowflakes. Of course, there are also in-app purchases that you can take advantage of to quickly modify your snow machine in style. But your gains may prove to be short-lived, as you will be re-grouped the next day with 10 other individuals that decided to fund their own racing snow machine just as you did.