The core concept behind Skully is fairly interesting and straightforward. You take on the role of a somewhat sentient skull, aptly named Skully, who has the ability to both roll around and take on different humanoid forms that can help you solve various different puzzles.
The rolling around part of the gameplay is very reminiscent of games like Marble Blast or Marble Madness, and places an emphasis on platforming with a focus on physics based maneuvering and precision. It’s quite fun really, and it often makes some excellent use of the terrain to provide some very enjoyable scenarios for you to play around in.
The other half of the gameplay revolves around Skully taking on the form of three different humanoid creatures, each of which are unlocked rapidly over the course of the game, and are used for solving different problems.
The first form you unlock allows you to smash through cracks in the walls to open up new pathways, and even perform a slam attack that you can use to eradicate enemies. The other two forms aren’t really combat oriented, and focus more on giving players the ability to move platforms and even gain access to moves like the double jump.
Now I’ll be completely straightforward here: I did not like the aspect of Skully’s gameplay that revolves around combat. It’s boring, uninspired, and frankly extremely repetitive. Combat encounters feel so forced and unnecessary, and that’s not at all helped by the fact that your moveset is so extremely limited.
Puzzle solving is much more tolerable, but even then most of them are really simple and unimaginative. To be fair, there are some that really stand out from the rest, but those are very few in number.
I didn’t like that the game forced me to stop playing through the fun and fluid rolling sections of the game to solve puzzles and engage in combat so often, and that’s especially true during the latter part of the game when you have to make use of all three different forms at the same time. These sections could have been used to provide a very welcome change of pace if they were well designed and used sparingly, but instead they’re mostly a hindrance.
Another more technical problem that plagues the puzzles are the bugs I encountered during my time with the game. As mentioned above, two of the forms you have access to can move platforms in the world, and various times during my playthrough they just refused to move the way I wanted them to, if they moved at all.
The game also seems to generally lack a lot of polish, especially in terms of combat animations and enemy movements and behaviours. There’s a rigidness to these features that you don’t really expect from a finished product, even one as clearly small scale as Skully.
This lack of polish also extends to the look of the game, which while pretty in terms of graphics, has this distinctly unfinished feel. Spend a few hours with Skully and everything from the foliage, to the collectables and even the text boxes will make you feel like you’re playing a tech demo as opposed to a finished game.
The only thing that makes Skully feel a bit more complete is the inclusion of a narrative, and even then I can’t really sing it’s praises. It’s just serviceable enough to provide context for why an animated skull is going about doing the things it’s doing on an island paradise, but that’s just about all I have to say about it.
In conclusion, about half of what Skully’s gameplay has to offer is really fun and enjoyable, but that fun is often marred by the inclusion of uninspired puzzles and utterly unnecessary combat sections. The game also needs a lot of polish as of now, and I find it hard to recommend it to anyone other than the most dedicated platformer fans.
Skully is set for release on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC on 4th August, 2020. It was developed by Finish Line Games and published by Modus Games. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review code was provided by the publisher.
Skully is an interesting platformer with some very clever ideas. But poor execution of those ideas and a general lack of polish makes it just feel like a glorified tech demo.