Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Switch, PC
When it comes to 3D platformers, you have Mario games, and then you have everything else. The genre certainly isn’t as crowded as it once was, so whenever a new 3D platformer emerges, it can be pretty exciting for fans. Skully is a new entry in the genre that takes advantage of modern tech to provide a genuinely beautiful visual style, but unfortunately, it falters in every other department. The end result is a game that could’ve been great but ends up being mediocre.
A dull tale about warring siblings
Skully kicks things off with a purposely choppy cinematic that introduces us to the titular skull-shaped hero of the story. Skully is created by an elemental being who’s feuding with his siblings. The character is meant to be painted as an empathetic dude, but the way he forces himself on his siblings who really want nothing to do with him makes him seem more like a jerk than anything else. At one point, he captures his sister in a magical jar so she can’t get away — not that the sister is all that likable herself, but this is still cringey.
Speaking of which, none of the siblings are likable characters. This goes beyond their cliché narrative and extends to their personalities. These characters are just bad and don’t even make for good villains.
Worse than the characters themselves is the poor voice acting for each one. There’s a distinct lack of personality behind the way each character speaks, and it really stands out. There’s also one sibling that yells for everything — he’s truly obnoxious and made me consider muting the voice audio a few times.
Not quite Katamari
There were two main reasons I was stoked to play Skully. First, I really enjoy 3D platformers. Second, I like a good ball-rolling game.
There’s just something really cathartic about rolling a ball across environments in a video game. And to be fair, Skully has a few pretty good moments where that’s mainly what you do. A few areas in each of the game’s levels are almost like miniature golf courses, and you can roll Skully’s head through tricky winding paths. These moments are genuinely fun, but they’re not without their share of issues. For starters, controls are slippery, so guiding the skull can be problematic a lot of the time.
Then there are those moments when you have to stop rolling and do some serious platforming. All the classic obstacles are here: strong winds, large pitfalls, lava lakes, and more. The big problem is that Skully is hard to maneuver when it comes to precision platforming on account of him being a ball. You can land a really hard jump onto a narrow rock and then roll right off due to the unwieldy controls.
When Skully isn’t frustrating, it’s just kind of dull. Skully can take on different forms, each of which can walk and jump like your traditional action-adventure game heroes. These forms also have their own special abilities. These include moving designated platforms telepathically, smashing cracked walls, and dashing long distances.
You can spawn multiple forms at once using mud pits (which also double as checkpoints), and this allows for puzzles that require you to use some or all versions of Skully at the same time. On paper, this is an interesting gameplay mechanic, and sometimes it does make for decent multi-layered puzzle ideas, but the execution is still kind of repetitive as these puzzles end up feeling rote after a while.
Ultimately, the dullness of Skully hurts it a lot, but it’s the controls that really act as the deathblow. Aside from the slippery skull-rolling mechanics, controlling the upgraded versions of Skully is also a bit of a pain. Jumps are weak, and you’ll often just barely make it onto a slightly distant ledge. Movement is sluggish and just feels off for these forms, too.
Then there’s the absymal camera. At its best, it’s somewhat functional. At its worst, though, you’ll be dealing with the camera zooming in on Skully unexpectedly if you’re too close to a wall or if you tilt the analog stick in a direction the game just doesn’t agree with. Speaking of camera controls, I encountered an issue on the Xbox One version of Skully where I inverted the Y-axis controls and they would reset to normal after a cut-scene or when returning to the game from the options menu.
There are a few sequences in Skully where you’re playing with a fixed camera. These usually involve running from some sort of elemental danger, like a flood or a… lava flood — um, yeah, there are a few floods in this game. These moments were among the worst offenders due to how the fixed camera doesn’t always give you the best perspective. It’s way too easy to miss a jump or fall off a narrow path due to the camera placement. These sequences are meant to be intense, but instead, they’re just tedious.
Roll on out of here, little skull
When you take your first look at Skully, it’s difficult not to be charmed by its art style. The game is just really nice to look at. Environments are colorful, water effects are gorgeous, and the nature-themed level designs are genuinely solid. The environments can get a bit same-y at times, which can lead to you getting turned around while exploring, but other than that, this is still a very nice game, visually.
While the voice acting may be offensively bad, the music of Skully is just… meh. It’s almost aggressively generic. There isn’t a single catchy tune or uplifting theme. It’s hardly worth talking about in great detail.
With the exception of what adds up to a few minutes, Skully is just not very fun — it’s actually kind of reminiscent of Knack, but sadly, it’s worse than that game. If you long for the days of 3D platformers, Skully won’t deliver what you’re looking for. It’s a subpar game with bad controls. It ranges from frustrating to annoying. And if you’re just looking to scratch an item-rolling gameplay itch, you’re better off digging out an old copy of one of the Katamari games or playing the recently released and vastly superior Rock of Ages 3.