Well, it looks like some very special people are in need of some help, and it is up to you to moderate and help bring peace among the crazy family! Only twist is… you are a skull. Skully is a bizarrely fun action platformer that is equal parts Marble Blast Ultra and KNACK. It is a charming little tale that pins you, a rock and rollin’ skull, against a world much bigger and scarier than you. But is this a game to get excited about? Or should we leave these old bones out to dry? Let’s find out!
In Skully, you play as Skully, a sentient skull, who was summoned by Terry, one of four elemental siblings, to help him bring peace between himself and his family. You see, there has been a lot of fighting, and the world around them reflects that. The terrains have changed, and Terry needs your strength to serve as a moderator of sorts and help the family to recognize the error of their way as you roll from one location to the next.
This is such a unique story. Terry is a rock god of sorts, and he and his siblings have not been getting along for quite some time. The relationships are toxic, and it seems like the opportunity to even speak to one another is absent. Terry is incredibly convicted by these family issues and is willing to do anything, whatever it takes to unite his family once again.
As soon as Terry introduces himself to you, the dialog between Skully and him commences, and with each passing sibling, the communication between everyone grows and grows.
It is a wonderful story of family conflict and an aspiration of resolution. Terry is such a complicated character, and it is so much fun following him throughout the campaign. He provides both witty insight and whimsical humor that keeps the story engaging and helps to create a real connection between the player and the characters.
Although Skully is the titular character, all eyes and ears will be on Terry and what he is trying to accomplish through his little skull-shaped creation. I honestly did not think this would be a game that wins me over with its storytelling and character development, but it did just that. A really well-told tale that grips you right from the beginning all the way to the final showdown.
Skully is a 3D action platformer that combines two very different elements based on the forms you are playing. You start off as only a skull, and the game truly does feel like a bizarre, epic version of Marble Blast Ultra. You fly around the screen with intense speed, and you can “jump” and somewhat bounce around as you traverse the map. As you progress, you will gain transformations that allow you to turn into mud monsters that feel all-too-similar to 3D platformers like KNACK. You move around with a bit more precision, you are slower, and actions are more centered around puzzle-platforming and fighting.
It is in this marriage of gameplay ideas that Skully shines and yet hurts itself. It feels like you are playing two different games that would be significantly better if they were separated, but together they are a bit convoluted and frustrating.
This is difficult to assess, because controls across the board are mostly solid. However, transitioning from skull to monster to skull again messes with the physics tremendously, and there is honestly no getting used to leaving the monster and trying to stick tight landings with the skull on very thin platforms lined with hazards all around.
Checkpoint placements are also a strange case. All throughout the game, I experienced checkpoints that were unnecessarily placed after pathetically easy sections, and I also experienced a lack of checkpoints in areas that desperately needed more. There were a few areas where you have to make your way through some incredibly difficult platforming only to be met with another obstacle of crazy platforms and no checkpoint in sight. This can be quite off-putting for casual players looking to enjoy a narrative experience, because these stressful areas and their lack of better checkpoint placement will genuinely prevent these types of players from progressing.
There were also a couple points in the game that I was able to skip sections and checkpoints completely by awkwardly climbing rocks and clipping, but this never helped to skip difficult areas.
The puzzles in Skully are tons of fun and require some pretty out-of-the-box thinking. At first, when you unlock your first transformation, the initial approach to puzzle-solving is a bit shallow due to the limited options given to you, but once you unlock all the transformations and abilities, the puzzle-platforming sections grow deeper and deeper with each passing chapter.
One of the best gimmicks in the game is the ability to jump Skully out of the transformations to create new ones. It is possible to have all the forms out there at once, and many of the best puzzles require the use of all transformations and abilities. Since death is rarely a problem in puzzling, I much more enjoyed the KNACK side of the gameplay than I did the Marble Blast Ultra.
Boss fights, although few, are truly spectacular in presentation. The story development happening as you make your way through these epic areas to knock sense into Terry’s siblings is loads of fun and feels like an actually boss fight. Despite that, some of the platforming during these battles is a bit more difficult due to a locked camera and strange angles. It does not necessarily ruin the experience, but I feel like death is inevitable to learn what to do next, which is not usually the best approach to gameplay.
As you play, you will also be picking up flowers that are scattered literally everywhere. Each chapter has hundreds spread around, and collecting these will unlock things like concept art from game development. For those that enjoy collecting items in games, this was a joy, because it adds a lot more gameplay and challenge to those looking to do more. Not only are you working towards these unlocks, you will also be performing some tough and obscure actions in order to collect those flowers resting outside the normal confines of the level.
The sound in the game gets an A+ from me. Everything is top-notch! The soundtrack is this lovely blend of Celtic folk that somehow improves as the game moves on. The sound effects are amazing, and I love how each form of Skully sounds and how the three mud monsters not only look different but sound unique as well.
But the highlight outside of the story itself is the voice acting. It is absolutely tremendous. Each of the siblings speak with such raw emotion and conviction, and it is hard not to empathize with each character and understand where they are coming from. The actors behind the voices simply did an incredible job giving so much life to the game and giving players a reason to care. Marvelous stuff.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE
Skully looks amazing when it is at its best, but unfortunately, my time with the Switch version, both in docked and handheld mode, was frequently met with slow texture loading, particularly at the start of levels.
The character models are weirdly ugly yet charming. The cutscenes look almost like poorly done stop motion animation, and somehow it works. I love when Skully is shaking his head “yes” or “no”, and the animation is not fluid at all. It has this quirkiness to it that just works, and it gives the feel of the whole game more personality.
The visual effects are also not something to glance over. The lighting adds so much to many of the scenes throughout the game, and the water (When it is not killing you a hundred times) looks absolutely gorgeous, especially with how the light hits it at times. Like I said, when the game is at its best, it looks amazing. It is just too bad that there are some performance issues that bog the experience a little.
Skully is one of those strangely priced games that sits between a high-end indie game and a fully-priced AAA game. What we have here is a 10-15 hour experience that will surely entertain its players in many ways. We have a stellar story that is told with some great voice acting, and the puzzles throughout the game are a ton of fun and really challenge the mind. Although there are hiccups along the way, like the poor checkpoint placement issue and some strange difficulty spikes, I do feel like this is a gaming experience worth its asking price.
For those looking for a solid 3D action platformer, you will be satisfied with what Skully has to offer. But if you are riding on the fence, this will be a great pickup at a discounted price some time in the future. Make sure to keep an eye out for that deal.
Skully Review provided by SwitchWatch.co.uk
Review also available on OpenCritic
Developer: Finish Line Games
Publisher: Modus Games
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Price: $29.99, £29.99, €34.99
Game Size: 3.8 GB
Story - 9/10
Gameplay - 6/10
Audio - 10/10
Visuals & Performance - 8/10
Value - 7/10
Skully is basically two games in one, where one of the games shines brighter than the other. Despite that, the game still tells an incredibly complex story in a fun and whimsical way. The characters are all great, and the journey to the end is one worth taking. For the Switch version, you will just need to look past some of the blemishes as you make your way through.
- Great story
- Top-notch sound
- Unique and fun puzzles
- Difficulty spikes and bad checkpoint placement at times
- Some visual issues