Game: Skul: The Hero Slayer
Genre: Platformer, Action, Adventure
System: Nintendo Switch (also PS4, Xbox and PC)
Developer|Publisher: SouthPAW Games | NEOWIZ
Price: US $19.99 | UK £15.29 | EU € 19,99
Age Rating: EU 12+ | US Teen
Release Date: October 21st, 2021
Review code provided with many thanks to NEOWIZ
Skul: The Hero Slayer is a 2D action game with rogue-lite elements. The game, much like its little skeleton protagonist, feels like the little game that started small and could grow into something much more. Originally released on PC in Early Access the developers have been working hard to develop the game further, even after its version 1.0 release. Now comes the inevitable console release where the game can welcome a larger fanbase. But is this a welcome addition to the Nintendo Switch or bones better left to rest? Let’s dig in.
From Skeleton to Hero
The Demon King’s Castle was once an impossible stronghold for the humans to overcome. So they decided to form an alliance with the Imperial Army and the ‘Hero of Caerleon.’ With this alliance, the stronghold is destroyed and the demons are all taken captive. But the Imperial army missed one small and unlikely character. A young skeleton called ‘Skul’ reforms from the destruction. With just a bone club in hand, sets out to free the demons and rescue the Demon King.
It’s not long before Skul finds allies like a Witch, who has quite the fondness for cat food. He also finds some fellow demons who will assist you with upgrades and perks before you start a new run. Even though you play as a skeleton, a character often depicted as a villain in video games, the lead is instantly likeable and plays quite the underdog in this story. As you gradually attempt runs and you make progress, you do begin to learn the backstory of the lead character in short cutscenes. I’m not going to spoil the plot points here but let’s say the developers do a good job creating some short yet interesting moments in its narrative.
Loose Your Head
The goal of the game is to try your best to get through the gauntlet of enemies on each randomly generated level, ideally in one boney piece. Combat is very much of the button mashing variety. Controls are easy to pick up and play. Still, expect to be mashing that attack button pretty frequently whilst trying to remember to dodge or jump out the way of incoming hazards.
When you reach the end of a level you are rewarded with a chest which may contain gold to spend at a shop later on, a new ability to buff your stats or a new Skul head. The Skul heads are by far the most interesting draw of the game. Each will offer its own unique abilities and play style with different attack range, speed and power. Some skulls like to lean more towards close melee attacks like the sword man and knight. Others lean more towards ranged attacks like the clown and mummy. Yes, you will encounter some very wild and wonderful Skull variations.
You can only carry two skulls at once and it is encouraged to switch between your two choices often. Doing this will lead the other skull form to jump in with a special attack giving you a temporary boost in damage. This is very helpful in a pinch. Easily my favourite was the Skull that turns you into a homage to Marvel’s Ghost Rider and yes, this skull comes with an ability where you can ride about on a motorcycle. Skulls can also be upgraded further, if you spend some spare bones at the handy spider lady between boss fights.
These bosses are collected by destroying unwanted skulls. But there aren’t enough resources to upgrade everything on one run. Do you focus on collecting gold and upgrading abilities or collecting bones to upgrade your character? It feels like a good balance and challenge to incentivize you to replay again and again. Even though, like most rogue-lites, it will likely end in failure. But if you love your rogue-lite action games you are in for a treat. There are silly amounts of new skulls to discover making the game hard to put down and not try for another run.
Bone to Pick
The main niggles with Skul are the same you would expect to see with a lot of action based rogue-lite games. Don’t expect to see the end of this game for several playthroughs. It does feel like quite the grind to earn enough gems in order to upgrade your character to a level sufficient enough to take down enemies and bosses with ease. It just feels a bit too much of a grind in the early stages. Bosses have absurd levels of health and take forever to take down on the base levels.
In a way the design here makes sense. You do, after all, play a pretty weak little skeleton and not your typical strong heroic game hero. Still easing off on the grind would have been nice. If you are having a tough time the developers have included rookie mode which can be switched on and off in the options at any time during a run and doesn’t appear to penalise the player for selecting this.
Graphics are pixel based but very colourful and kinda cute. The highlight is the protagonist Skul and all his many skull variations. Additionally what stood out to me about the art direction is the game doesn’t go for the typical locales you expect to see in a fantasy style game. While all the levels in the game feature armoured soldiers, the first area features Ents (living trees) which feels quite refreshing and possibly eco friendly with all its impressive detail to plants and foliage.
The game also has destructible environments which is kinda neat. Not necessary of course, since destroying enemy tents and grass won’t necessarily net you more coins but it’s a nice polish from the developers that didn’t go unnoticed. After that, you’re mostly looking at castle settings. Settings with plenty of variety in enemy design, with evil mages and rather aggressive maids? Sure, why not. The soundtrack is a nice mix of upbeat and cheery score, to more tense and suspenseful the more you progress. The game ran solid in both handheld and TV with no slow down, which is very impressive as sometimes the screen has ludicrous amounts of enemies.
All Bones but Full of Heart
For me Skul: The Hero Slayer was a highly entertaining action rogue-lite experience. With multiple skulls of widely varying playstyles to discover, it’s hard not to make another attempt at the difficult gauntlet ahead. The challenge is very high and the grind may seem like a lot for some gamers. But in a strange way I found some inspiration in this I don’t often feel in gaming.
Skul is a fragile skeleton that fails more than he succeeds. But it’s in his attempt to try and win the day that makes him quite likeable. I guess in life some of us will lose more than we win. But we get up everyday and keep going because sooner or later life will throw us a bone. I guess what I’m trying to say is Skul is pretty darn great. Whether you take life lessons from it or not, this is a colourful pixelated rogue-lite that is far from bare bones.
Final Verdict: I Like it a Lot
Awesome. I am not sure I will get it, but it looked pretty interesting to me when it was announced.
keep an eye out for a sale