Shapeshifting and transformations have been a mainstay part of games for decades. Super Mario’s are probably the most well known, becoming even crazier when Super Mario Bros. 3 rolled around with Mario even turning into a frog and a statue. However, it was with Kameo: Elements of Power that I felt like a protagonist really changed with each form she adopted, not only visually but in how useful they were to the overall gameplay. While it’s still up to debate while or not Kameo was worth all the hype it had behind it back in the Xbox 360’s launch, there’s absolutely no way to deny that it was certainly varied and colorful, not to mention fun.
That’s why I came with relative hope of rekindling that fun when I got around to playing Modus Games and Canadian developer Finish Line Games’ Skully, which promised to offer a similar experience: this time as a reanimated skull whose mission is saving an island from the troubles brought upon it by the constant in-fighting between sibling deities. By jumping into pits of magic mud, the titular Skully can acquire new and powerful forms, like one of a bulky golem who can punch boulders and decimate any enemy dumb enough to get in its way, which it can jump out of and into at any point.
On its own basic form, Skully is very weak: it’s pretty much a rolling rock that can jump relatively high and stick to mossy surfaces, somewhat like Metroid Prime’s Morph Ball, with the added weakness of dying when coming into contact with water for a few seconds or practically instantly when touching an enemy. Once in a special form, that danger presented by water remains, but it gains a little more resistance to incoming enemy damage along with the abilities that each one of them grants.
Levels in the game are really spacious and present some challenging platforming that is made way trickier due to how touchy the controls in Skully are. That’s mostly due to the presence of air control during jumps and the over-sensitivity of the analog stick, which coupled with the fact that the little rolling skull you control is so small, make it especially difficult to nail jumps and maintain control afterwards. That’s not even getting to the camera, which has a mind of its own and abruptly decides to change angles and obstruct gameplay every so often.
There’s also the issue of these levels presenting long stretches of gameplay without any checkpoints, or having too many of them one after the other when not needed. At the time of writing this review, I have only made it to the third level of the game after playing it for 3+ hours due to a spike in the game’s difficulty that’s amped by having little to no room for mistakes and no breathing time provided by a checkpoint.
Trust me when I say that I have no problems playing a tough game, but I feel that this is an annoying problem that could’ve been remedied by having a better and more clear distribution of saves while still keeping Skully fairly difficult. At its current state, I’m having zero fun playing and can’t think of going back and getting through that stretch, sadly.
That’s really frustrating because there’s a lot to like about Skully outside of gameplay. I dug its world and the whole story conceit of having deities quarrelling and messing with the environment treating it as their personal domains, even more so by getting all of that backstory through some amusing narration that’s done with Skully’s creator, a down on his luck local god who’s gotten on all of his family members’ bad side.
In terms of performance on the Switch, I found Skully plays practically the same regardless of going portable or in console mode. The controls are just as tricky playing the game on the JoyCons or the Switch Controller Pro, which certainly was surprising considering my overall disdain for playing platformers and precision demanding games portably. The only real nag I ran into playing the game in any of the modes was how muddy (no pun intended!) and low resolution it looks, something that the Switch’s smaller screen helps alleviate somewhat, but not much. Loading between menus and levels can be a bit long too.
As it is now, Skully is a game I have reservations about recommending. Whether or not it would be easy for the developers to remedy the qualms that I have with checkpointing, as well tightening up the controls and whipping the camera I couldn’t say, but I’m hoping that there is a way for those fixes to happen eventually so I can get back to playing at some point. For as problematic as it is now, I’m more than willing to give it another shot in the future if that somehow comes to pass.