Some Major Skullduggery Going On Here
Some of the older gamers among us may remember an old Gameboy title called Kid Dracula. A Metroidvania game, it featured players taking on the role of a vampire wishing to slay the hero in a bizarro twist of the standard platforming schtick. Those of us who are familiar with freeware PC offerings will also remember a game called Akuji The Demon, featuring a similarly cute playable antagonist. We definitely need some more games along these lines, and we’re pleased to announce that Skul: The Hero Slayer comes close to being a full-fledged spiritual sequel, no pun intended.
Skul: The Hero Slayer is a 2D platformer that places players in the role of a tiny little skeleton freshly disassembled from a major battle. Turns out, the demon realm, for which he is part, has been overrun and ruined by human hordes. Worse yet, it seems that the human race is on the verge of wiping out the demon species entirely. It then falls on to you to take on the human threat by slaying their most prominent heroes. Guided by a witch who transforms into a cat, you can expect to die over and over, but you’re already dead and each time you re-die you venture back into the fray, a little stronger and hopefully a little wiser for your misfortunes.
A Bone To Pick With You
If you’re at all a fan of games like Hades or Dead Cells, you’ll have an idea of what to expect here. Gameplay is action-orientated and fast-paced, pitting our intrepid skeleton against possibly dozens of foes at once. Control is fluid: players are expected to dodge, slash, jump, and switch powers extremely rapidly. It can take a tiny bit of getting used to, but worry not as you’ll be pulling off skillful, choreographed movements which are as fun as they are beautiful. This is amplified by the fact that various enemies are able to do ranged attacks, effectively stopping you from standing still and encouraging constant movement.
Somewhat reminiscent of Dynamite Headdy, you are able to swap out your skull for a new one that grants different abilities. Amusingly, there are references to God of War and other games in these skulls, and I won’t spoil them. Just be assured that it’s most amusing. The amount of skulls available is multiplied by the inclusion of upgrades and unlocks, essentially rendering them as separate weapons and devices. The amount of possible combinations with skulls and perks and upgrades is absolutely staggering. For example, certain upgrades may cause a helper minion to materialize and fight on your behalf, whilst others offer less esoteric benefits such as your standard upgrades to stats such as attack speed and range.
It’s made all the more fun by the absolutely superb controls. Jumping, double-jumping, dashing, and throwing are executed superbly. Each control is tight. Responsive. It’s an absolute joy to play and it harkens back to the days of the SNES in all its 16-bit glory. And of course, the enemy roster is diverse and gorgeous, too. Brilliantly designed ogres, ents, and other abominations await to return you to dust. Beautiful witches guide you and cats welcome you to otherworldly realms. It’s overflowing with charm and style and I loved every last minute of it.
Rather Humerus Situations
Scattered in the levels are purple gems to collect, which serve as the game’s basic currency and allows you to purchase upgrades. As can be expected, you’ll need to play through a few runs before you manage to snag yourself enough gems to be worthwhile, but at least you’ll have a lot of fun in the process. Also, you can find demons to rescue; bringing them back from the clutches of the homicidal humans helps towards some permanent buffs, allowing you to start off your next run stronger and more capable. As frustrating as this may sound, it isn’t; it has the mythical, elusive “one-more-try” quality of the best games. It annoys you just enough to want to keep returning and get better, and forgiving enough so that it’s never a chore and you always walk away feeling a little accomplished, no matter how tiny it may be. It’s this perfect balance that endears it most of all, even more so than the colorful visuals, charming NPCs, and surprisingly engaging story that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The game is a rogue-lite, so naturally, it contains randomly-generated levels and courses. Though, they don’t seem to differ a whole lot from one run to the next. It would have been nice to offer up a little more variety in the various level bits pieced together, but then again these levels are short and it’s not a game-breaker (no pun intended) that they be simple and samey. This gives the entire affair a whole “coffee break” roguelike quality, perfect if you want to kill a few moments while you wait for your appointment or for the microwave to beep.
Skul: The Hero Slayer is a fun little title whose cute graphics belie the tough challenges and grinds that lie within. Dying is all part of the appeal, and never once is it frustrating or unfair. You’ll want to keep returning again and again in order to get just a little bit further, or to perhaps secure a new type of outfit or skill. It deserves a place on your playlist if you have any sort of affection for old 16-bit RPG-brawlers. If this sounds like you, then you need to head on over to the game’s official Steam page right now in order to secure a copy for yourself. If you’ve gotten a chance to slay for yourself, let us know how you feel in the comments section below!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Windows PC / Steam (Reviewed); Publisher: NEOWIZ; Developer: SouthPAW Games; Number of players: single-player only; Released on the 21st of January, 2021.
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Steam key for Skul: The Hero Slayer provided for Hey Poor Player by the game’s publisher.