My ultimate guilty pleasure of low IQ YouTube content is gamer rage compilations. Seeing a cocky streamer instantly reduced to an infant-like hissy fit after a big ol’ Game Over screen soothes even my worst days. However, as these poor fools decimate their expensive peripherals, consoles and monitors, I realise that I have fantasised about doing the same many times: There exists a subset of games that are just hazardous for the lifespan of your gaming hardware, and Skeleattack is a new offender.
Skelattack is a platformer with a metroidvania twist from a relatively new studio named Ukuza, and it is certainly the kind of game that demands a high level of reflex functioning from your central nervous system. In line with a recent trend of titles like Shantae, Celeste and Cuphead, Skelattack aims to offer the same variety of unforgiving platforming cleverly disguised by cutesy, hand-drawn graphics, but an attempt to overstretch the boundaries of its genre tarnishes the overall experience with frustration.
Tickling your funny bone
The most interesting part of Skelattack is actually the game’s publisher: Super Mega Evil Corporation for World Domination, or known by their nickname as Konami. Better believe it folks: After axing their golden boy, ruthlessly hunting all who dares utter the letters “PT”, and humiliating fans with a misjudged Contra Rogue Corps, one of the most bloodthirsty publishers in our industry came full circle back to the very genre they helped establish back in the 80’s. Go figure.
In Skeleattack, the player takes on the role of an amnesiac skeleton, named Skully, and occasionally his leathery-winged buddy, Imber. Our skeletal protagonist and his batty friend live in what I assume is some sort of land of the dead since there are bonies everywhere, and they even made a wobbly, wooden pub with a skeleton jazz band!
Anyhow, while all is generally peaceful and jovial in this underworld utopia, an invasion by humans puts an end to the tranquility of Aftervale. It seems those marauding fleshies are after the Blue Flame – a powerful magic keeping the netherworld intact, which the human beings intend to use as a remedy for their dying king.
Thankfully, Skully is an agile hard-arse (pun intended) with a sword, and since his batty little companion endows him with extra abilities, the dynamic duo make the logical choice to defend the afterlife against the human invaders.
Leg bone’s connected to the head bone
The story mainly serves to move along Skully and Imber’s progression, and it gets the job done, but the only way to experience the narrative is by clicking through some hefty chunks of dialogue with NPC’s found around the game’s world. Indeed, the writing is snappy and filled with tons of humour, but I don’t think I have ever read this much text in a platformer game. This just makes the characters feel excessively gabby.
As for how it plays, Skelattack truly is a classic platformer in how minimalistic the gameplay design is. The player can run, jump, and Skully has access to a basic sword attack reserved for dealing with the baddies. This may seem basic, but the classic assemblage of environments in dungeons, lava caves and haunted castles can only be conquered by a player who gains a decent level of skill with these controls.
I had to get creative with double jumps and wall slides to conquer the really tricky sections, particularly because Skelattack is filled with MANY hazards that will… erm… ‘kill’ Skully with a single touch. However, there is virtually no penalty for flubbing a difficult jump given that the little skeleton and his bat will simply respawn with full health at the last blue lamp they passed. The only real punishment is a random sign located in some of the hub worlds, which keeps a mocking tally of your death count!
There are also several mechanics that makes Skelattack’s gameplay sail really close to metroidvania territory, such as a map that allows fast travel, a world that unlocks progressively and acquiring a few additional abilities. Sadly, the developers never really committed to these elements, and it makes Skelattack feel like a game that’s trying to trick the player into thinking they’re playing a metroidvania title.
A particularly obvious example is the blue shards Skully and Imber can collect for upgrades. Rather than taking away a life, the game attempts to push the player’s skill by subtracting around twenty blue shards from your total number every time Skully has to respawn. This is somewhat eased by the lost shards floating for a limited time at the last place Skully met his demise, but this means diddly-squat if the area is hard to reach. May as well cut your losses and move on.
The older Sonic games did this system really well since loosing rings at least prevented the player from dying, so it was always worth collecting them. In the case of Skelattack, loosing your hard-earned blue shards from a mistake seriously hinders the focus of the skill-bending platforming that sits at the core of the game. There are far too many instant death traps here which makes massive frustration (and a broken controller or two) inevitable for all but the most hardened platforming veterans.
There are also sections which, as mentioned, you play as the bat, Imber. These were by far some of my least favourite moments in the game, and my issue can be summarised in two words: ‘Flappy Bird’.
Going out on a limb
It is painfully obvious that Skelattack was originally envisioned to be a much bigger, more complex metroidvania title, and I wonder if Mr Corona Virus is somehow responsible for stunting this game’s development. As such, certain gameplay elements don’t really make sense, and the adventure of Skully and Imber could have been more memorable if it played out more like a stripped down, side scrolling platformer, with levels presented as linear, segmented missions.
Nonetheless, Skelattack still offers a rewarding experience once you try to look past all the leftovers from its former developmental direction. The controls are tight, the characters are likable, and it is still a game that celebrates that unique caliber of skill that defines these type of games. While other, more refined titles would still be my first choice, Skelattack will please fans of this genre when the annual sales come rolling in.
- Cute, cartoony graphics
- Level design
- Controls are responsive
- Witty writing
- Silly upgrade/ability system
- Excessive exposition
- Tries to do too much
Computer Specs: Windows 10, 64-bit PC using Nvidia GTX 1070, i5 4690K CPU, 16GB RAM – Played with an Xbox One controller