Published by Konami and developed by indie studio Ukuza, Skelattack is a platformer looking to combine the likes of Castlevania with the precision platforming difficulty of titles like Super Meat Boy. Except when compared to the latter, Skelattack has no meat on its bones. It hides a soulless platformer and egregious amounts of frustration under an adorable cartoon veneer meant to evoke that Cuphead or “classic cartoon” look. Despite its visual charm, there’s simply no life in the underworld.
Skelattack is a buddy platformer. Skully the skeleton and Imber the bat live (or rather, are undead) in Aftervale, Skelattack’s version of the underworld. Skully is sent on a mission to rediscover his former self—a kind of rite of passage for the passed who all lose their memories upon dying. Of course, at the same time, humans begin attacking Aftervale, and it’s up to Skully to channel is inner warrior to combat them.
Its animations and characters ooze style. A vibrant opening hub area hints at a game filled with personality and charm. But it doesn’t last. Those charming areas soon give way to dull and repetitive dungeons, each little more than pallet swaps from caves to forests and other biomes one may come to expect. Every once in a while some of the charm breaks back through, but it’s largely a bunch of relatively boring platforming sections interspersed with moments of personality. That personality and charm made me want to like Skelattack a lot more than I did, but it just never seeped over to the gameplay where it was desperately needed.
For the most part, Skelattack is a platformer, pushing forward to get to the next area and move on. It tries to introduce elements of collecting objects or going on “quests” for characters, but the game is largely platforming through various sections, resulting in boss fights. Some of the platforming is easy, but there are extreme difficulty spikes where the game asks you to make very precise moves through deadly environments (with dangers often blending in to the art and background too much).
Its areas of difficulty are less about timing and rhythm and more sheer frustration inducing. Hitboxes never seem consistent, which makes repetitive deaths in a single spot aggravating. It mixes metroidvania platforming and precision platforming like oil and water. The game’s life bar and magical ability to restore health means that learning precision platforming aren’t as important as simply surviving long enough to get where you want to go. When it then comes to moments that randomly sap all of your health if you touch certain obstacles, it seems like the game never prepared you for this. Rather than compliment each other, the Skelattack’s elements tend to clash and be at odds with one another throughout.
Skelattack Review – Mismatched Gems
One of those elements is collectible gems or crystal shards, meant to be a currency used to purchase health upgrades and various abilities. Death will drop a certain amount of gems, and getting back to that spot will allow you to pick them up (yes, a la Dark Souls). But these upgrades don’t really matter in the grand scheme of progress, and some sections are far too punishing, easily sapping all of your gems with a few poorly-placed jumps. It’s discouraging, to say the least, but their lack of real importance to the overall gameplay never gave them the weight to overcome failure that they were intended to have. It was more just a sadness as my collector brain saw the number in the corner slowly go down to zero.
Precision platforming games build to their notorious difficulty by teaching skills in earlier levels. Skelattack just kind of tosses you to the wolves and lets them chew on your cartoony bones. The game is only about four or five hours long in total (and that’s with a bunch of failures), but I had to put it down multiple times out of sheer frustration at jumps and encounters that felt entirely unfair and stacked against me in ways that the game never prepared me for. I revel in challenge when that challenge is earned. Skelattack does not earn its challenge.
And yes, the game is rather short, once you can slog through the obtusely tough sections and the soulless platforming bits. This should be evidenced by Skelattack’s trophy list consisting of a whopping four trophies. You can simply charge headlong through most of the game without a care—live, die, repeat, it doesn’t matter. You’ll force your way through any situation with no real loss or lesson learned. Losing out on shards only makes it easier to justify never actually learning how to overcome a certain challenge and just brute-forcing your way through it. When that number reaches zero, there’s no reason to play it careful anymore.
Outside of platforming, there is combat, but it lacks any real bite. The best bits are the boss battles, which are actually quite brilliant and fun in many ways, but are subverted once again by the oil/water mixture of Skelattack never quite landing on exactly what kind of platformer it wants to be. Precision doesn’t matter when you have a health bar and the ability to refill it on the fly using magic. Skelattack’s fundamental gameplay never raises the stakes enough to give players a reason to actually get good at the game.
Skelattack’s narrative is charming, but its payoff doesn’t feel worth the aggravating and lifeless gameplay to see through. Compare it with a similar indie platformer like Guacamelee, a game which punches out with charm and balances its precision platforming, combat, and narrative into a perfect blend. If a game like Guacamelee was the target goal, Skelattack falls sadly short.
Skelattack is a game of exceptional mediocrity, a frustrating adventure with an identity crisis and a balance problem. It screams potential that it never even comes close to reaching as it draws obvious inspiration from numerous places, but fails to capture the charm and intention behind those progenitors. Its story and art is its strongest aspects, but the stagnant gameplay drags down what could have otherwise been a pretty good concept. There’s a core of a good idea here, but like it’s lead character, there’s simply no meat on these bones.
Skelattack review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.