Skully Preview

I have very fond memories of early XBLA title Marble Blast Ultra. Something about that style of physics based gameplay, rolling a ball around tricky environments and navigating perilous platforms, does it for me. Skully takes some of the same principles, but adds in more traditional platforming sections as well as combat, resulting in a promising looking title, though not one without some frustrations.

I was able to go hands on with the first 2 levels of the game (via a Steam Press demo), where we are introduced to the titular Skully, a skull filled with magical clay that has been resurrected to help Terry – himself seemingly made of the same magical clay–  and reunite him and his siblings to return peace to their idyllic island. I sense some sinister vibes behind his motives, though in the demo he comes across as a fun loving, surfer dude-type with nothing but good intentions.

Skully, predominantly just a ball of clay, can only move by rolling around. Using the left stick sees him rolling around at the speed of sound, such is the sensitivity of the controls. If anything, it feels a little too fast for the kind of precise navigation we need to pull off. More than once throughout the hour or so it took to clear I found Skully flying past platforms, or careening straight into the copious amount of water surround the areas.

It takes much more nuance with the stick than I expected to get fully under control, though again it was all too easy to go from zero to a hundred by mistake. One of the last traversal sections requires several precise jumps on slanted terrain in a row, and was almost a breaking point for me, such was the frustration I felt. It felt too inconsistent that one moment Skully would barely move and not make the jump, while the next he was being flung way beyond despite me not really feeling like I’d done much different. The checkpoint here didn’t help matters, with a good 20 second, slow paced stretch needing completing before getting back to the tricky part, before almost instantly failing once more.

Outside of these points though, there’s some neat use of the mechanics, with winding pathways and climbable greenery that offer up a good challenge. Touching the water quickly drains our energy bar, depleting it fully respawning us at the last clay pool check point. It’s here that we get to sample one of Skully’s other mechanics; sinking into the clay pools lets us re-emerge as a towering Goliath, capable of smashing enemies and walls blocking our progress.

This variant was the only one available in the demo, but from the trailer there look to be a least a couple more later in the game. Controlling the Goliath slows the pace considerably, with a melee attack complimented by a fire one that takes out the water-based creatures. They can still jump and navigate platforms but smaller crevices signal when we must leave the form behind and carry on as Skully. I’ll be intrigued to see later forms and how they change up the gameplay further. There are also hundred of collectables dotted around each stage, many requiring masterful control of Skully and his forms – not something I was able to achieve in such a short time.

Conclusion

There’s potential here for Skully to provide a whimsical, yet challenging puzzle platformer. Mixing up the gameplay with the transformations is a neat idea, while having various types of challenge across the environment mean even just the rolling around action keeps things fresh. The controls are a little too sensitive I feel at the moment, and the checkpoints a little unevenly spaced, but I’m keen to see how the final game shapes up.

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This game was previewed on PC (via Steam). All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.
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Summary
Good
  • Good use of the environment for puzzles
  • The extra forms offer up nice variety
  • The story has potential to be a bit of a laugh
Bad
  • Moving Skully around is hyper sensitive at the moment, making precise platforming tricky
  • Checkpoints feel a little unevenly placed
Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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