On a mysterious remote island, a skull washes up on shore and is reawakened by an enigmatic deity. Dubbed Skully, the newly reanimated being has been summoned to intervene in a war between the deity’s three siblings, whose quarrel jeopardizes the island they call home.
Publisher: Modus Games
Reviewed on: PS4 (Pro unit)
Also available for: Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Cast: Ian Ronningen, Kira Hall, Paul Van Dyck, Rochelle Bulmer, Allison Hossack
Developer: Finish Line Games
Game Director: Daniel Posner
Writer: Brandon Hicks
Lead Designer: Jason Canam
Art Director: Eric Frech
Lead Programmer: Keenan Smith
In this video game, you play as a reanimated skull. You collect flowers through the deep forest, over an ice-cold mountain and across volcanic rock biomes all while transforming into several different clay form bodies. It’s an afternoon adventure game that’ll take you between 5-8 hours and although it has a cute exterior, expect the platforming and puzzles to put you to the test.
As a throwback to the collect-a-thon platformers of yesteryear, Skully looks to the only role model remaining in the genre, Knack. You see, Skully can only roll around and perform simple jumps as a tiny and brittle skull. He melts under water and heat but can survive large falls. Luckily he is able to transform, like Skully’s obvious hero, Knack, and he uses these transformations to solve puzzles and battle foes.
Skully, the skull, is brought to life by Terry, a god of some sort who is on a mission to put a stop to his three squabbling siblings. All also gods. The story is bare-bones and is told through animated images as if you were flicking through a picture book. The cast of characters is colourful and full of personality even if the narrative is serving the gameplay and wraps up a bit too sweet. But I guess most picture books tend too.
As you begin the journey, the reanimated head learns to use gravity and momentum to move around and make jumps across deadly gaps. Whenever you’re playing as Skully, just as a skull, the game is entirely about momentum. This can make platforming as the skull tedious at times, but it’s also what makes Skully unique. You’ll often get yourself stuck under the tiniest little indents in rocks and other objects as you attempt to make your way up or over them. There’s an uncontrollable level of frustration that comes with playing Skully. The tiny skull simple isn’t designed to be controlled with precision. It’s sure to annoy some players who expect perfect accuracy and understanding in their platforming.
Skully can transform into three different clay forms at mud pools around levels. These also serve as your checkpoints. His first form is a bulked-up being with grass growing out of its back that can punch holes in walls and send shock waves across the ground to defeat worrisome liquid foes. As the game progresses you’ll eventually get access to two more forms. A small but nimble runner that can activate a boost mode and use magic to move particular blocks horizontally. The third form also moves the blocks, although only vertical and also lets you double jump to reach high places.
You can have up to three clay forms activate at one time which leads to some of Skully’s more intriguing puzzles. You’re able to have one form hovering a platform, while you jump into another form to jump on top of the platform. In one location you must use three of the double jump clay bodies to take in turns moving two platforms up a mountainside, rotating in and out of the three different bodies to hover the platforms in the air as you jump backwards and forward. These puzzles are where the game feels most at home and doing something unique with its clay-forms and mechanics.
The most frustrating segments of Skully involve either the camera ruining a platforming sequence or one of several sequences that see you rolling away or towards the camera with a wave of water or lava chasing you. These levels reminded me of Crash Bandicoots’ boulders levels. Unfortunately, they’re not as fun. Because of the floaty nature of Skully and the way the camera moves, it becomes rather easy to miss simple jumps. The first boss fight in the game involves a similar sequence to these boulder-run inspired levels and made for my least favourite level of the entire game.