In Skully, water is not your friend. And on this tropical island of rocky beaches, dripping caverns, and gloopy swamps, water is everywhere. One slip and you’re right back to the last checkpoint.
Disintegrating in water does at least make sense, considering you’re playing as a rolling skull made of mud and clay. Yet the constant fear of instant death is just one of many cardinal platforming sins that Skully commits, turning an intriguing idea into a lesson in frustration.
Control is the most important part of any platformer, but here you’re mostly controlling a rolling ball that’s in constant motion, tasked with jumping across irregular sloping structures and spinning around precarious paths. It’s like controlling Metroid Prime’s Samus in Morph Ball form – Skully is fast and responsive to inputs, but the organic – and often linear – level design with water frothing around you makes slip-ups an annoyingly regular occurrence.
Puzzle elements are based on Skully’s ability to morph into different creatures at pools of mud. In ball form, Skully is fast and can roll up mossy walls, but is vulnerable with no method of attack. The opposite is the hulking golem form who’s slow but packs a shockwave punch. Then there’s a stocky little guy who can run at speed and move certain platforms horizontally telepathically. Another sprightly twiggy fella can do the same vertically, as well as double-jump.
With the ability to morph into multiple creatures at once, the puzzles gradually rise in complexity, though they’re never quite taxing enough on the brain. Later, you’re given the ability to record the movement of floating platforms to reach new areas, but the implementation is poorly explained. Worse, the solution to most puzzles is often clearly evident, but due to the need to return to checkpoints to summon each creature, plus some finicky controls, puzzle-solving is a chore. Throw in some inconsistently placed checkpoints and Skully becomes a gruelling task to play, with an ambient score that does nothing to calm your nerves.
Poor camera control is another committed sin. It’s mostly freely manoeuvrable which works well enough, but in certain climactic escape moments, the camera is fixed as you race towards the screen with waves of water or lava at your heels. That means a cocktail of awkward movement across perilous platforms and not being able to see your route, all with the threat of instant death and a time limit. It’s enough to put the controller down permanently.
Yet there’s a certain grubby, whimsical charm to Skully. Its world is more washed out than colourful fantasy, but the character design has awkwardly cute appeal – especially the way the creatures regurgitate Skully from their mouths. And though it’s told cheaply through mostly static scenes, the story of bickering elemental siblings does have a nice message by the end. It’s just a shame the game doesn’t make the most of its inventive ideas. Among all the platforming sins, the developer’s creativity dissolves like mud in water.
Skully is light on story, but the narrative shows more personality than the bland visuals. Four elemental siblings rival for control of the Life Heart – the stubborn Terry, argumentative Wanda, hyperactive Brent, and fiery Fiona. It’s the mute Skully’s task to get them working in harmony as they grieve for their lost mother.
Skully is stuck in the mud, its best ideas lost in a sea of basic platforming errors.
Genre: Platformer | Format: PS4 (tested) / PC / XBO / Switch | Developer: Finish Line Games | Publisher: Modus Games | Price: £24.99 | Release: Out now