Developer: Modus Games | Publisher: Finish Line Games| Release Date: August 4, 2020 | Genre: Puzzle/Platforming | Reviewed On PS4 Pro
The copy of Skully used for this review was provided by the publisher.
Skully is a puzzle/platformer created by Canadian developer Finish Line Games who previously worked on Maize and Cel Damage HD which was a port of Electronic Arts 2001 cell-shaded car combat game. This is their second original outing with Maize being their first. It is published by California based Modus Games which is Maximum Games indie label. The game is designed by Daniel Posner who was a producer at Bioware and was a programmer on the original Cel Damage.
Skully’s Gameplay is a platformer/puzzle hybrid which at a surface level is a 3D take on games such as Celeste or Super Meat Boy in terms of the format. The devil is in the details with the character, Skully, having various forms they can take the form to navigate the often hostile environments. The default form is the Skull form which is reminiscent of the Marble in Marble Madness. This form is speedy and reliant on physics to get by. You also have access to various forms such as the Strong form which allows you to punch through certain rocks and destroy enemies with a fire attack. There is also the Swift form which allows the player to run and jump. Lastly, is the Vault form which allows you to double jump and lift platforms to assist with traversal.
Skully’s 18 levels are reminiscent of the original Crash Bandicoot games which were known for their challenge. Skully and their various forms have a slippery feel similar older platformers from the days of the original PlayStation. Puzzle-solving is thrown into the mix ranging from simple in the early levels to definite head-scratchers later on. This can be a turn off to some players, but fortunately, the game does have a fair check-point system. Boss fights are mainly puzzle fights which do require certain forms to defeat. The mix of well-worn mechanics is well-executed, but like the aforementioned games can be a bit of a trial and error experience.
There are also flowers to collect which do unlock artwork which does add some replay value, but that’s about it. This was done by a small team so I can’t fault them for that.
The Graphics in Skully are powered by industry mainstay Unreal Engine 4. This engine has been used in games from Fortnite to Final Fantasy VII Remake. The visuals here are solid and perform mostly at 60 frames per second. There is some hitching at the beginning of some levels but doesn’t hinder the precise platforming needed to succeed. The art style is reminiscent of Disney’s Mona and is inspired by that movie’s tribal look. There are also 7 distinct environments from the sun-drenched beaches at the beginning to the hellish underground caverns. You get a lot of visual variety which allows the level to not grow tiresome which is a common flaw in smaller platformers.
Skully uses pre-rendered cutscenes that have a stop motion feel to them with full voice acting. These usually happen at the end of a level or before a boss. The story itself is a fun romp with cheeky dialogue with Skully the main character given a second shot at life by the Mud god Terry who must face his siblings the water welding Wanda, the wind-powered Brent, and fire elemental Fiona.
These scenes are short and to the point and are refreshing from the lore dumps of more expensive games. It also has a running gag with the NPCs telling Skully to stay quiet despite being a silent protagonist. It gives the player enough motivation to keep going on. There’s not much negative in terms of the narrative and presentation.
It also comes out at a bargain price of $29.99 which is light on the wallet and a great value.
Overall, Skully is a solid platformer with some real thought-provoking puzzles. The trial and error gameplay can be a turn off to some players but it has a charming art style, whimsical humor, and consistent technical performance. The lack of replayability is also a slight hindrance, but Skully is a satisfying experience.