If I mention the name Skully and you were hoping for something involving aliens and an FBI agent called Mulder, you’re going to be disappointed. This game has absolutely nothing to do with the X-Files, or even anything remotely science-fiction. Finish Line Games’ latest title is instead a 3D platformer suitable for those with young children. It is the latter audience that will most appreciate the protagonist, a skull that’s been imaginatively named Skully.
Thanks to a man called Terry, Skully has been resurrected out of a clay pit. The issue is he forgot to reanimate the rest of Skully’s body. Still, that won’t stop the little skull from being useful in Terry’s mission to stop the war currently raging between him and his three siblings. Each has control over one of the planet’s elements, Terry having control over earth. The war means they’re each destroying the work of the others, and if Terry can’t stop them, soon there’ll be nothing left.
Skully Review – A World in Turmoil
First impressions show little evidence of this war. The first chapter takes place on a pretty beach with clear blue sea and pristine sand. It’s all very peaceful, even if there is a deceptively large number of rocky platforms and narrow paths. These require a fair amount of precision to cross safely, even if they initially don’t present much of a challenge. To get through this, Skully can roll, jump, and climb vines. I’m guessing he does the latter with his teeth.
The game would get boring fast if it was restricted to just jumping around with Skully. As such, he’s able to mutate into three other golem-like clay forms to help him get around. The first is a strong golem that can destroy vulnerable walls and defeat generic blob-like enemies made of water or lava. There’s also a quick golem that can sprint and move platforms horizontally. Finally, the agile golem can double jump and lift platforms vertically. Skully can spawn multiple golems that combine to solve increasingly difficult puzzles. At first these fit in well with the pace of the game, but towards the end the puzzles bring the game to a shuddering halt.
Each golem’s powers increase later in the game. For the strong golem, this allows him to throw Skully up to otherwise unreachable ledges. For the other two, they can “record” how they move platforms so they’ll move even when the player isn’t in direct control of that golem. So much time is then spent trying to perfect the placing of platforms and their movement that it often takes a lot of trial and error just to get out of a single room. If the platforms collide with each other or surrounding scenery, they’ll stop moving immediately. Completing a level now becomes tedious rather than challenging.
Changing back from a golem into Skully can be done at any time, but the reverse isn’t as easy. Golems can only be spawned at clay pools, which double up as checkpoints. These golems then stay exactly where they’re standing when Skully ejects. Seeing as Skully must roll very close to an existing golem to get back into it (which isn’t explained well and caused a lot of grief initially, so much that we had to reach out to the developers to get clarification on the mechanic), there’s often a lot of backtracking to fetch the one you need. Upon reaching a checkpoint, the previous golems also then become useless and there’s a constant need to dismiss them. Both issues are things for which some sort of summoning function for golems would’ve made a massive difference.
Skully Review – Rolling All Over the Place
Not only do the puzzles get more difficult as the game progresses, so does the platforming. Skully is a typical ball who continues to roll even on slightly slanted surfaces. His movement speed is fairly rapid, and even the slightest of twitches on the joystick can send him careering off a platform. It’s far too easy to overcompensate. The golems become both a means to progress and also to be more sure-footed, as these can stand still at most angles.
The platforming in some levels, particularly the water and volcano environments, is sadistic and difficulty spikes are frequent. It’s not helped by camera, which needs to be moved manually. Sometimes the camera can’t move quickly enough before Skully rolls off a platform. The camera can also clip into scenery or zoom in way too close. All of these mean blindly jumping towards an invisible destination. It’s not what you want in a platform game that requires a lot of precision at times.
Death can come easily, frequently, and often instantly. Water washes Skully’s clay brain away. Lava bakes it dry. Falling into rivers and lava means instant death as it’s impossible to jump out of something that deep. There’s a reason the game’s trophies challenge players to complete ten levels without dying, because it’s far from easy to do.
The most frustrating levels are the chase sequences. Not only do you need to be quick, mistakes are punished harshly. The checkpoints here are infrequently placed, and death often means replaying a lot of the level. The camera also tends to zoom too far out this time. It’s difficult to make out a tiny skull when running away through a volatile environment with plenty of exploding lava or crashing water.
Skully Review – Hating Lava With a Passion
At least getting lost isn’t one of the game’s worries. Players are directed through a level by a constant stream of yellow flower collectibles. Aside from that, their only other purpose is to unlock concept art. Completionists will want to collect all of them, but most players will have little incentive to do so. There are also hidden statues of the four siblings, but there’s no reason to find these either unless you want their associated trophies.
The platforming is supported by a decent story that explores the breakdown of family relationships in the wake of grief. Told through cutscenes that are a bizarre mix of stills, stop motion, and actual video, it has a cartoonish tone that will appeal to children. The voice acting may irritate anybody older, especially Terry’s overenthusiasm. Irregular pacing means the story is slow to get going but is rushed at the end. Because of this, some characters don’t get as much air time as they deserve.
Skully has other issues too. A strange bug meant that I twice lost control of the golems, watching helplessly as they plunged into the nearest hazard. Sometimes when climbing vines, Skully would fall off for no reason. There were invisible walls, times when Skully deflected off platforms at an unnatural angle, and times when the lava would just disappear. A lot of players will likely give up before they reach the end of the game. It’s a shame but completely understandable when the game has a heart that’s let down by myriad problems.
Skully review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.