Game Review #543: Skully (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Finish Line Games
Publisher: Modus Games
Category: Andventure, Platformer, Puzzle
Release Date: 8.4.2020
Watch the Trailer
Buy Skully from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Skully for the Nintendo Switch is a 3D action game that marries Marble Madness-style rolling mechanics with more traditional platforming gameplay. It does a pretty good job of incorporating both styles of gameplay and most importantly finds a way to smoothly transitions between the two by way of a checkpoint-based transformation mechanic. You play as Skully, a skull that washed up on a beach. Skully is found and given life by Terry, a nature spirit trying to reunite his many siblings who also inhabit the island. The two set off to visit each of Terry’s siblings in their domains to reestablish communication between the island spirits as well as perhaps discover what caused their separation in the first place.
I’ll Form the Head – and Body, Arms, and Legs I Guess
To start the game, you’re stuck in Skully’s skull form. As a skull, Skully’s actions are limited to rolling around, jumping, and climbing up vines. Not too far into the game, Skully gets the first of his three transformation abilities. While transformed, Skully has a body with legs and arms and everything, and each form has its own unique abilities that help you move around a level and/or crush your enemies. For instance, the first transformation is strength mode, which allows Skully to punch through certain rock walls or smash the ground to send out shockwaves which damage enemies. His speed and jumping range are pretty limited in this mode, so there are tradeoffs. The other two forms aren’t exactly spoilers, but it’s more fun if you discover them for yourself. Or you could just watch the trailer if you’re not a fan of surprises. Both work. Anyway you can only transform at a pool of magic clay, which also serve as the game’s checkpoints.
Check In Frequently
Checkpoints are scattered throughout each level where Skully will respawn if (when) you (I) die (constantly, in my case). The good news is that respawning is pretty much instantaneous; you don’t have to endure a loading screen a hundred times if you hit a particular sequence that’s giving you a lot of trouble. The bad news is that the checkpoints are usually separated by two or three major challenges each, so if you’re having trouble with the last hurdle you’ve got to retrace your steps every time. The constant repetitiveness can drag the experience down pretty quickly. It gets even worse if you have trouble with the first hurdle and then have trouble with a subsequent challenge. The even worse news is that Skully’s health bar is so short that it may as well not even be there sometimes. It depletes so fast when you hit the water that the only thing it’s really good for is making you have to wait another second to respawn.
Keep Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’
Getting back to some good news, I didn’t find most of the game’s platforming puzzles to be overly challenging when Skully was transformed. If he had a body, the game was pretty much exactly the right level of challenging to be engaging and achievable, but not too easy. Getting back to some bad news, however, when you’re just in skull mode the controls are extremely over-responsive to the point of frustration. When you’re forced to jump between small platforms in skull form, hitting the small spaces and not having the controls over-react when I hit a thumb stick was a constant, unwelcome source of frustration. I know the skull is a sphere, and spheres roll on uneven surfaces, but Skully’s 0-to-60 in a split-second acceleration made landing accurately kind of a chore. I should mention at this point that I was never a fan of Marble Madness or its spiritual successors. I should maybe have mentioned that sooner.
While the gameplay is pretty fun overall, I think Skully’s strongest asset comes from its visuals. The 3D graphics are sharp, colorful, and detailed. The island is simply a beautiful place to explore, and the character models are smoothly animated and as richly detailed as their environments. There is, unfortunately, a slight drop in visual fidelity when playing the game in handheld mode. The graphics get kind of fuzzy, but they still look pretty good. The soundtrack is plenty enjoyable to boot; the music incorporates lots of calming strings but still features lively beats that keep the game’s energy up. The voice acting is decent if a little stiff at times, if we’re being brutally honest, but I appreciate the devs going the extra mile to include it in the first place, so I’ll count it as a virtue.
I Didn’t Catch Any Mulder Jokes, Unfortunately
Finishing up, Skully features some collectibles in the form of flowers scatted around every level. Collecting these flowers unlocks new entries in the game’s concept art gallery, which I always find to be a really cool extra when games include one. Overall, Skully does a lot of things very right and only a few things wrong. The traditional platforming elements when Skully is transformed are tight, feature a balanced level of challenge, and control smoothly. The graphics are wonderful and the soundtrack ain’t too shabby either. The mechanics for the rolling skull portions of the game feel imprecise – which I know is just kind of part of that particular genre, but that’s also the reason why I’ve never really been partial to it. Still, Skully is a fun experience that has something to please every 3D action game fan.
Buy Skully from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes