Review: Skully (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Skully
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (8.16 GB)
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: Finish Line Games
Original MSRP: $29.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Skully is a challenging 3D platformer that takes place on a secluded island and features a skull, magical clay, and three deity siblings quarreling with each other.

As a skull, the player is essentially controlling a ball with physical properties. The more momentum you have, the farther and higher you can jump. However, that can quickly change and it can be difficult to know how far Skully will jump. In some areas I was moving fast and for two or three big jumps in a row. I slowed down slightly to adjust and line up the next jump and I would often fall well short of the mark.

The platforming in Skully is challenging, but I wouldn’t call it a precision platformer. I would have a general idea of how I would want to approach a series of jumps. However, trying to not slow down and to keep my momentum, I would try not stop or slow down to adjust even when the next jump required big direction changes. I was constantly moving forward, increasing my speed, and soon I was flying by the seat of my pants, reacting and not thinking.

There is no timer or score at the end of the level, no reason to rush to the end. The physics in Skully made early sections feel as if this was how the game was intended to be played.

It wasn’t long before the game started requiring more precision. I don’t play many challenging platformers, and I am sure my skill level played some role in my difficulties. However, the controls and physics in Skully don’t feel like they were really dialed in to fully allow the players to accomplish the challenges the game set before them.

Whether I was moving as fast I could or just fast enough to make the jumps, depth perception was a problem.

There were direction changes that also required the player to land uneven surfaces. It’s very hard to line up the next jump on the fly when it is perpendicular to your current heading. I couldn’t fully stop and rotate the camera because of the uneven surface, so Skully would start to roll away. Rotating the camera while in the air to see the next jump made it hard to see the area where I was supposed to land.

The interaction between the DualShock 4 joysticks and the acceleration in game didn’t seem properly calibrated either. Landing on a lily pad was easy, but as I waited for the ring of lily pads to rotate I had to fight the joystick. For a short time I had to keep Skully from rolling into the water. Sometimes it was just rolling Skully back and forth to keep him near the centers. Other times, and I can’t tell you why this happened, Skully would roll back and forth quicker than normal, and then all of a sudden the slight touch of the joystick would send him flying off the lily pad and into the water.

Luckily, if I died (and dying was easy), a quick reload would get me back in action. Unfortunately, the checkpoints are too far apart. There always seemed to be two distinct challenging sections with an intermediate section in between checkpoints. Finally making through a series of jumps to quickly die in the next challenging section was completely demoralizing. I ended a number of game sessions early because the thought of trying to get through the first section again was too much.

Skully was brought back to life by magical clay, so it makes sense water would damage him by washing away some of the clay. So when I took a turn around the beach too wide and dipped into the water, or was hit by an enemy’s water attack, I would take some damage but it wasn’t an instant death. On the other hand, if I rolled off a platform or missed a jump in the middle of the water it meant almost certain death, only it wasn’t quick.

Missing a jump and landing in the water meant waiting for two to three seconds for your life to drain away. Sometimes you could jump out of the water, but not often, and it wasn’t very high. The fact that touching water isn’t an instant death means the developer didn’t want the player to die every time they fell in the water, but they didn’t give the player a reliable way to recover.

The whole time I played Skully I kept thinking about Mario 64. If Mario missed a jump and landed in lava, he bounced sky high while grabbing his butt, but this gave the player a really good chance to recover and keep progressing.

In Skully, not only are the checkpoints too far apart, but now, in many areas, one mistake and I had to start the sequence over again. At least providing a way to make a few couple of mistakes and still reach the next checkpoint would have greatly reduced my frustration.

It’s not too long before Skully’s golem form is introduced. Formed out of the magical clay, the golem walks, and while some platforming can be done with him, he is really there more for very light puzzles.

Visuals:
The cutscenes are stop-motion comics. Not a bad choice for a non-story heavy indie game. The downside is that the cutscenes don’t show off the environments.

There are some nice views of the environment in game. Even though there is some variety in the environments, you are still on the island. Sand, rocks, and water always make up most of the environment.

Audio:
The background music reminds me of a fantasy RPG with a modern day twist. The classical violin and flutes are accompanied by bass and guitar. Of course, the music was often drowned out by my incessant swearing.

There is not a lot of voice acting in Skully, but the narrator does a good job. Without the narrator there is no story. While a platformer doesn’t necessarily need a story, it would have been nice for the developers to have players experience the story instead of it being told to them.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
It’s not that I didn’t have fun at times with Skully, but those moments were easily overshadowed by banging my head against a wall trying to get to the next checkpoint.

Skully has some interesting ideas and tries to introduce some new mechanics but ultimately never evolves much past the original idea. It is a challenging platformer that is marred by a few poor choices. The game demands more from the player than the controls allow for.

The distance between checkpoints and lack of way to recover from mistakes moves the game from challenging but fun to frustrating and unfair. In the end, Skully is a hard game to recommend to most people.

strong>Score:
5.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook