Platformers are one of the longest-running genres in gaming.
Chances are you have experienced one of the classics from the golden years such as Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog or Ratchet and Clank. You may have even seen heavy influences of platforming in some more unlikely places like the earlier God of War entries. The genre is timeless and hugely varied to suit gamers of all ages and recently, Finish Line Games released Skully, a fantasy-based 3D platformer where you control a Skull, then it’s not just a clever name!
After washing up on a mysterious island, Skully is reanimated by an overly enthusiastic elemental deity who needs help to stop a feud between his siblings in order to restore the island back to its peaceful ways. You must guide Skully through multiple ecosystems filled with dangers and puzzles to solve on your way to slap some sense into the bickering elemental siblings who are each trying to cover the land with their own power, Water, Fire and Wind respectively, where’s Captain Planet when you need him?
Controlling Skully is relatively simple.
Use L3 to send him rolling along the floor, move the camera with R3 while pressing the X button to perform jumps, you can also hold down R2 to attach to vines and make your way up or along the side of rock formations. The opening level does a good job of easing you into things, the pathway is highlighted by collectable flowers to keep you moving in the right direction but you can also explore a bit further to find hidden collectables.
The problem is the game always feels like it’s catching up with itself with Skully’s momentum and speed never feeling balanced enough to judge accurate movement and slow down along tighter areas meaning you will spend a lot of time overshooting or undershooting jumps and scenery which becomes extremely annoying. The game also suffers from slightly erratic camera positions despite allowing for manual camera movement. Fortunately, checkpoints are pretty decent for the most part but don’t make up for what ultimately boils down to sloppy physics.
Skully is swift for a little fella.
Although he is fairly useless outside of rolling along the ground. As you begin to encounter enemies and blocked path’s you will find yourself at a disadvantage, but not to worry as a series of mud pools are dotted around each area, rolling into one will not only allow you to recover health and mark a checkpoint but allow you to morph into a golem-like creature to stomp around and even the odds.
The first Golem is a slow heavy hitter who can smash enemies and open new pathways, easily identifiable by their distinctively highlighted cracks but a further two can be unlocked as you progress. Each Golem also has their own set of powers to help you along your way such as faster movement or the ability to double jump so choosing the right one for the job will be the key to success, think a cross between Kameo and Knack and you will be on the right track.
The Iron Golem
The Golems don’t really come into their own until you have all three as you can then start using combinations and switching between them to solve puzzles and problems in a variety of ways. This, in essence, was the highlight of the experience but felt a bit restrictive as the game just seemed to teeter between Skully sections then Golem sections instead of feeling more dynamic. The Golems, as mentioned, are also required for combat but the enemies are not much of a threat throughout the game, more of a general hazard than can be avoided which keeps things rolling along nicely as you won’t be getting bogged down in long-winded battles against a screenful of fodder. This extends to the Boss battles too, instead of what you might call traditional style battles each Boss fight becomes more of a platforming challenge that is only made a challenge due to the controls once again making the whole experience feel unbalanced.
The levels, of which there are eighteen, are simple and straightforward for about ninety per cent which is expected as right off the bat, Skully looks to be aimed at younger gamers and mostly succeeds but throws in bizarrely awkward sections with a huge difficulty spike that would make a Dark Souls veterans squeal like a vegan in Burger King. These sections feel like they don’t belong in the finished product due to their lengthy checkpoints and infuriating layouts that just sucked the fun out of the whole experience, honestly, these several areas across the game felt like they should have been bonus unlockable challenges in themselves for how out of place they felt in comparison to the core game.
Now I am no superstar master of the platforming world but I have made my way through some of the finest in the genre and I found myself struggling and becoming increasingly annoyed playing Skully, so I am not sure how this is going to work for the intended audience which is a shame as I previously mentioned, the majority of the game, though not groundbreaking, moves along nicely with charming music and despite the sketchy camera, does show signs of having a good concept.
The graphics are certainly not up there with the likes of Ratchet and Clank but they are good enough, I did notice some splotchy textures here and there but that was easy to overlook thanks to the diverse scenery on hand as I progressed through the different areas. The music is upbeat and suits the game well but one area that again seemed unbalanced was the cutscenes. The story is told through a series of storyboards and although the voice acting is good the pictures and art just looked a bit lifeless and bland which made it a struggle to really get behind the characters or even care that much.
Skully is a good concept for an action puzzler that is completely let down by bad platforming and an overall experience that just feels unbalanced. I really wanted to enjoy playing this but it constantly teased with one hand and took with the other, if the developers could tighten things up down the line with a patch or two then it could be a winner but right now it’s hard to recommend for younger or older gamers.
Review code provided
Platform: PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo
Release Date: 04/08/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Platformer, Puzzle
Developer: Finish Line Games
Publisher: Modus Games
Download link: PSN