Skeletons are the bane of your existence in video games. Always coming to life and attacking you when you only have a level 1 sword, they're pests really. So with a title like Skelattack, it would be easy to assume that you're going to hack and slash your way through a horde of the ivory warriors, but do not be fooled. This game has tricks up its sleeve not only in how much it will make your curse at your television via its gameplay but also in its deeply layered lore.
In Skelattack you play as Skully, one of the many skeletons that live in Aftervale, who must come to terms with your existence as a member of the deceased population. At the core of the game is a twist on the dungeon-crawler/fantasy genre, positioning you, the lowly skeleton enemy with a sword, as the main hero against humans invading your world. You must leap, slash, and try to not turn into a pile of bones, which you will do often.
And that’s what makes the foundation of Skelattack so compelling. The heart of this game’s narrative is an interesting flip on countless video game tropes and Ukuza, Inc. has done its best to layer it with little story beats and deviations that play with what you know. How many times have you destroyed a walking skeleton in a Skyrim dungeon? Over 1,000? This time the skeleton fights back with equal footing and it’s a hoot to watch. In addition, the game has a beautiful art style and hand-drawn aesthetic that works extremely well.
The problem of course is that this is all mostly window dressing for the actual game, a hook to keep you invested in the gameplay, and I’ll admit that worked on me -- at least until the gameplay itself frustrated me into oblivion. Described as an action platformer, though clearly with some serious Metroidvania tendencies, the game will throw you across dungeons and landscapes where the difficulty varies from room to room. You might get stuck in one area for 20 solid minutes and then clear the next three with no trouble whatsoever.
It certainly seems like the intention of the developer is that your character is easy to kill. After all, you’re playing as a character that would be the easiest target in any other game, but that doesn’t make dying 60 times across one room any less annoying. The good news is that the game is also designed to encourage repeat attempt as flames across each room give you new spawn points and there truly is no limit on how many times you can die and keep going. That’s a bright spot, but it doesn’t make up for the tiniest point of an area becoming deadly and utterly annihilating you three times in a row.
Despite being discouraged while playing the game, after some reflection away from the controller I really do like Skelattack. Frankly the, ahem, bones of its structure are the primary selling point for me, but I think that mighty foundation ends up being a launchpad for something that doesn’t always work. Is components and designs are pretty clear, but its inconsistent difficulty doesn’t always come with a feeling of accomplishment or necessary rewards.
In any event, Skelattack is a great-looking, albeit completely frustrating game that will surely delight and infuriate folks. Even though I tossed my controller aside more than once in my playthrough, I can’t help but feel the allure to try again. I know I’m going to grunt and moan the entire time, but the look and lore of this game are too much to ignore despite my complaints.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Skelattack is now available on Nintendo Switch, Steam, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. A PlayStation 4 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model PS4.
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