Skully review. Its how I roll.

From Modus games and Finish Line games a new release bring a game of an animated skull. There are probably not enough skulls in videogames o...

From Modus games and Finish Line games a new release bring a game of an animated skull. There are probably not enough skulls in videogames outside of some classic hits such as Planescape and Monkey Island. They were some very entertaining supporting cast. But how does a skull do as a videogame lead and in a action platform game at that. 
Is animated skull gameplay the next platform gaming trend or should these bones have stayed in the ground?

The premise
you start the game washing up on the beach of a remote island. Lifeless, bleaching in the sun until a hand grabs you and drops you in a puddle of mud and clay. This dirt pool has magical properties and brings you to life. The mysterious hand that gave you new life belongs to a awkward dirty green looking fellow named Terry. He explains he wants to enlist your help stopping a feud between him and his siblings who all live on the island In trade for your help he promises you any life you like, anywhere you like. So nothing left to do then roll along and see where the path leads.

As you just a skull there is not too much you can do other then roll, jump and grab vegetation to roll up the side of a cliff. In fact you are pretty fragile, especially against water which quickly washes out the clay from your insides removing all that magic that gives you life. Just a few bounces in the wet H2O and you are done for. Lucky there are many mudpools scattered throughout the island. Here you can recharge your health and they also act as save points. 
The game plays out by moving from point A to B in a fairly linear fashion. Throughout each level you find collectible flowers which if you collect enough will unlock concept art and achievements for the game, but there is no need to get them all before you move on. 

At certain times throughout the game you will get to a mud pool that seems to provide a little extra magic boost and unlocks a new power. These powers come in the form of three different clay avatars you can posses and use to pass by obstacles. For instance you will quickly get access to a brawler type body which can be used to break open rock walls and using a fire blast can take out enemies that wonder around blocking your way. Later you will get access to a form that can move blocks and run fast as well as a very jumpy fella that can double jump. As you progress these forms will get an additional ability as well to help assist you in moving forward.  These power ups always come at a point you need them, there is no Metroidvania style backtracking in the game. You can create three of these guys at a time either all the same style of a combination. This way you can solve certain platform puzzles by combining their powers.If you used all three up you can dispel them and start over. It is up to you how you use their abilities to overcome an obstacle.

Each area is guarded by one Terry's siblings and each sibling represents a certain element such as Earth, Water, Fire, Wind. This I guess, makes Skully -heart in order to make our captain planet combo complete. Each of their domains will feature some dangers based on their elements leading up to their inner sanctum where you have to defeat them. 

Missed it by that much
So far this all seems for an interesting concept for a platform game with all the ingredients to be a sleeper hit. The trouble start however almost as soon as you get to control the game. The controls of Skully react well and you can even move around when you are in the air in order to compensate but overall they are way too sensitive. Combined with a very touchy and stubborn camera and some strange collisions it quickly becomes an exercise of frustration. In this house both the girls quickly arrived at a point where they quit because of this. To add to the technical issues it does not help that some of the level design is questionable. The opening level does not give you the time to get used to the controls and puts you in some hard to navigate levels with not enough explanation and way to much water. Your enemy number one from the first rolls you take ( if you do not talk about the hot lava)

Once you push past the first few levels, gain access to your clay form and traverse further inland the game gets easier to handle but the same wonky camera and touchy controls remain and issue. At certain times the camera would turn exact the opposite way of where I was supposed to go making me lost and at times cost me to die and have to start over as I did not escape in time. Forced angle chase scenes caused frustration because the camera felt too far pulled back making it hard to see Skully and time those jumps and dodges.

Besides the very obvious "smash with big guy here" or "move a clearly marked platform there", the levels did not feel they complimented or build upon the new found powers as well one would expect. At times it felt they were going to start going to make things interesting such as using two clay forms at a time to move a platform or use them to throw Skully into the air. But there was no big follow through. Because of this, what is missing are those defining game moments you cannot wait to share with your friends. This is a missed opportunity, especially since the game protagonist is a spherical object.

Graphically the game is a mixed bag and mostly is underwhelming with the occasional pretty lighting and scenery moments.Lackluster designs, low textures and limited color pallete really bring down the overall look of Skully. A nice detail  was in the island transition as you slowly move more inland  going from sandy beach to the forest,to the mountains etc. It felt they all belonged together despite their differences. Combining the lack of graphic fidelity with uninspired designs of the enemies, which are just elemental blobs the game will not impress anyone on visuals.

The presentation of Skully is well done and the voice cast performed very well. The story of the fighting sibling elemental gods on the island is well told and well acted. There is a bit of a slow loading times between levels but restarts are really quick and smooth. Each area has a unique theme and look and feel. Another detail I really likes was that dialog during the game would not repeat ad-nauseum as I had to redo certain parts of the level a bunch of times. Certain areas would trigger a dialog part which when finished would not repeat. If I had to respawn in the middle of the dialog it would continue on the last spoken (and interrupted ) sentence and move forward. Having lived through many games that would start the same dialog over and over ( Looking at you Gears of War "look at all that juice" ) I was happy to experience it not being an issue in Skully.

Skully has the parts of a great game but fails to make it come together in a perfect package. The frustrations with the camera and controls, lackluster graphics and uninspired design hurt what could have been a real unique game experience. Taking control of the different clay forms is not enough to address this problem.  This does not make Skully a terrible game, but it does not make it a great game either. Instead it lies solid in the middle as an average game. At just shy of $30 If feel this is too much of an ask but it is up to each individual if the price is fair or not . I still feel that the game has promise and untapped potential and home that Skully will get a sequel that builds on the foundation it set for itself and addresses the issues it has. If it does I would certainly play it. For now I am rolling past and onward leaving Skully to play in the mud alone.

Game information:
Title: SkullyDeveloper:  Finish Line GamesPublisher: Modus Games
Release date: 4 August 2020
Platforms: Xbox One,PlayStation® 4,Nintendo Switch and PC(steam).
Review platform:PS4
ESRB: E fore Everyone


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