There was a time when 3D platformers were released regularly, as every game publisher tried to deliver its own Super Mario 64. Fast forward to 2020 and open world games are all the rage, leaving the 3D platformer fans with very few new game releases in any given year. Skully is one of the few 3D platformers for 2020, but unfortunately, fans of the genre will probably skip it.
Skully’s gameplay is quite similar to Super Monkey Ball, where players have to roll the titular skull of Skully along narrow paths and make jumps that require a lot of precision. Unfortunately, Skully’s controls are inconsistent. Sometimes tilting the left stick slightly will result in a slow roll, and other times it will cause the skull to roll across a platform at a ridiculous speed. This is compounded by the game’s camera, which players have to constantly adjust if they want any hope of seeing where they’re going. And the combination of these issues makes it seem like the game is working against the players.
When checkpoints are frequent in Skully, frustrations are easier to bear, but there are some really difficult checkpoints in the game that will require players to repeat significant parts of the level if they die. And in a game seemingly designed to kill players as much as possible, this can lead to some serious frustration. Almost every level in the game seems to have a long section where players have little time between checkpoints, and these difficulties will probably be enough to convince most to put down the controller.
But at least the platforming, as frustrating as it is, can be thrilling, in a way. There is a lot of tension when players reach one of the game’s difficulties, and finally, getting to the next checkpoint offers a great sense of relief. However, the game’s later levels are plagued by a tedious new ability Skully’s clay golems learn that slows the pacing down to a crawl.
In Skully’s later levels, players will find themselves having to move boxes with the smaller two of his three golems, “recording” their movement so that the boxes stay moving even when Skully exits to the golems. The idea is that it creates moving-platform challenges that players can customize themselves, which isn’t a bad idea on paper, but it can be a slow, difficult process to get the patterns right . And like platforming, players often find themselves struggling against the game mechanics themselves versus the challenge laid out for them.
Sometimes it takes too long to set up, where players have to get a golem to raise a platform, go back to the last checkpoint, get another golem to move the platform, go back to the checkpoint, and then get the big golem to knock down a wall or throw the Skully to the next area. The time it takes to set up some of these contraptions makes the game feel like a slog, and this issue is exacerbated in areas where it’s easy to die. Because dying means having to start all over again, which becomes mind-numbing after a while.
And the worst part is that some deaths aren’t even the player’s fault. We ran into a glitch in these sections several times where the animation to get Skully back into the golem would freeze all characters, and then Skully would go through the golem and fall into the lava. Messing up a jump and restarting is one thing, but dying due to a technical issue is annoying.
And this isn’t the only technical issue players will experience when playing Skully. Another annoying bug we encountered had to do with grassy walls that players were supposed to cling to. While this often works, there are times where Skully will just bounce against it and fly in the wrong direction to his death. Sometimes players can go through collectibles and they won’t register, other times they can’t get back inside the golems they left behind, and there are various smaller bugs and graphical flaws as well. All these issues pile up and make playing Skully a nightmare at times.
As far as the golems go, platforming them is a bit more bearable, and they each have their own unique abilities to help keep the gameplay varied. For example, the large golem is essentially Skully’s tank form, and is capable of defeating enemies (consisting mostly of water blobs and lava blobs and nothing else) as well as destroying weak structures. The medium-sized golem is able to double jump, and then the smallest golem uses a burst of speed to reach wide gaps.
When the game starts to introduce box puzzles and gives the large golem the ability to throw Skully, however, the golem gimmick starts to work against the flow of the game. Often players will need a specific golem ability to overcome the next challenge, but they won’t know which golem they need until they actually go forward and see what’s going on. They then have to backtrack to the previous checkpoint and switch, which contributes to Skully’s pacing issues in a big way.
Completing a particularly challenging section of the game won’t fill players with a sense of accomplishment like they would from extremely difficult games like Dark Souls or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. There’s a great sense of relief coming from players realizing they’ve managed to fight the camera and be in control enough to get through another section of the game, but it’s not useful.
So the gameplay in Skully is really disappointing, the only thing left to convince players to stick with the game is the story. Unfortunately, Skully’s plot isn’t very interesting, with predictable plot twists and uninspired cut-scenes that do little to get players invested in the story.
Players won’t find the graphics much reason to stick with Skully, either. There are times, especially in the lava levels, where the game can look pretty good. But most look plain and generic, with lots of ugly grays and browns dominating the screen. Players will also be greeted with some extremely blurry textures when the camera happens to be stuck behind a wall or waterfall, which is not a rare occurrence.
With so few 3D platformers released, some fans of the genre may still be tempted to give Skully a chance, and it’s hard to blame them. However, the game is just a disappointing experience from start to finish, with very few redeeming qualities. Those looking for a new 3D platformer to play might be better off keeping their fingers crossed that the next game in the genre lives up to expectations.
Skully launched on August 4 for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Today Technology was provided with a Steam code for this review.