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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: Finish Line Games
Release Date: Aug. 4, 2020


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PC Review - 'Skully'

by Cody Medellin on May 17, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

The action/adventure platformer sees Skully, a reanimated skull's second chance at life, on a quest to stop a simmering war between feuding siblings.

Marble it Up, Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball are three seemingly different games that share the common thread of platformers with spherical physics. It's an intriguing concept to control something that takes effort to stop moving, so any game that does something different is worth checking out. Skully is that kind of game, and while it attempts something new but familiar, it doesn't do it too well.

The story starts off with you, a skull, washing up on the shore of a beautiful, deserted island. It doesn't take long before someone picks you up and submerges you in a magical pool of clay to infuse you with life. One of the island deities needs your help to stop the ongoing feud between him and his siblings. With the promise of exploring the rest of the world as you please, you go along with your newfound creator's plan.

As a skull crafted in ball form, you have a good idea of your abilities. Rolling around the ground is your main means of locomotion, and you're pretty fast while doing so, but not to the point where you feel like you can go out of control. You can also roll around on surfaces that are covered by thick patches of grass. Leaping is something you can also do, and there's a surprising amount of precision to your jumps.

The precision in movement and jumping is great, but the game doesn't seem to take full advantage of it. You may have speed going for you, but the terrain is often flat and wide enough that precision movement is rarely a concern. Banked turns could be exciting, but you'll never fall from them unless you completely stop. There are areas where the game could have turned into a roller coaster ride, but the failure to do that means the game would've felt the same if the ball were replaced by another creature instead, making the choice of a balled-up skull more aesthetic than functional.

Skully isn't all about moving around as a balled-up skull. Throughout your journey, you'll come across magical clay pools that replenish health, act as progression checkpoints, and give you the chance to occupy different body types, each with different abilities. For example, the strong body may be slow, but you can perform ground pounds to knock out enemies, and you can knock down pillars so they become bridges. You can also use that form to toss Skully over great chasms. The vaulting body may not be as large as the strong body, but it is useful when you need to lift blocks, and the double-jump always comes in handy. Then there's the swift body, which lets you manipulate certain ground-bound platforms and is useful when you need a burst of speed to clear gaps.

Unlike the times when you're in ball form, the game does a good job of using the abilities of your temporary bodies, and there are a few times when you'll need to juggle between those bodies to solve a puzzle. The issue is that the game doesn't make these sections challenging. More often than not, you'll come across a puzzle section and know exactly what to do thanks to the easy-to-read signs of what you can and can't interact with. Like the platforming, there's no challenge, so you'll only die when you're not paying attention. The one area where this is different is in the boss fights, which feel like real challenges to your puzzle-solving and platforming abilities. However, with only four boss fights spread out over 18 levels, those moments are few and far between.

Aside from the game's general lack of interesting things to do, it suffers from pacing issue in many areas. Checkpoints are a good example, as they tend to be unevenly spaced out. There are moments when checkpoints are packed very close to one another, with the only thing separating them being a bunch of easy jumps, but there are also moments when the checkpoints feel sparse. The inconsistent checkpoint placement also leads to the feeling that levels are too long for their own good, something elevated by the lack of difficulty in some areas and lack of enemies in others. It doesn't help that the levels just sort of end. Without warning, some levels simply move to a cut scene before taking you to a completely different environment, robbing players of the satisfaction of completing a portion of the journey.

Another thing that players might find irksome is how Skully seems to have squandered the potential of its world. Like many platformers, the game has collectibles in the form of leaves. While most are out in the open, some require expert leaping to reach. Others are hidden in places off the beaten path, which can also hide flowers that count for multiple leaves at a time. Those are all well and good, but the reward for the collection work is artwork. There's a decent amount of concept art that can be unlocked, and the game counts the total number of leaves obtained in the run rather than restricting it to unlocks by level. However, the lack of any other bonuses, such as different costumes or colors for Skully or anything else fun, makes it feel like busywork for people who aren't interested in behind-the-scenes stuff.

The presentation is good, at least initially. The shimmering water is always beautiful, but the shimmering lava can be a bit odd. The foliage and other natural elements have solid texture work, but those elements repeat often enough that they aren't impressive after a while. It's good in motion, but you're not going to be thoroughly wowed by it. As for the sound, the music is perfect for the environments and situations; the voicework may initially seem out of place, but by the end, you aren't going to mind that the elements sound more casual than powerful.

Skully has its heart in the right place but can't quite execute things correctly. The movement is zippy when you're in ball form, but you're not going to find too many things to challenge you. The puzzle mechanics are good, but you won't have to think too hard about your next move. It's a fine experience that's not too enthralling due to its unevenness, so it's difficult to stick it out to the end.

Score: 6.5/10

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