Recent years have seen a new spirit of collaboration between the big publishers and smaller indie game studios. Whether it’s ben internal teams creating games at Ubisoft, or EA and Square Enix creating indie publishing labels, they’ve sought to nurture these smaller, often more experimental experiences. Skelattack sees the first of Konami’s contribution to this worthy cause.
This is particularly noteworthy as Konami have been conspicuous through their absence in recent years, with only the lamentable Metal Gear: Survive and Contra: Rogue Corps having appeared alongside their yearly football games. Fortunately, this indie collaboration points to a brighter future, as Skelattack stands on its own as a beautiful and charming little dungeon protector.
Developers Ukuza Games have been working on Skelattack for a few years now, and the level of polish across the whole package shows that this has been time well spent. The gorgeous character design, nifty animations and overall level design really shines here. It might have a cutesy aesthetic, but don’t let that lure you into a false sense of security. Skelattack is not a game to take prisoners and there will be many deaths before you reach the end.
The storyline to Skelattack is novel, although not entirely original. You play as Skully, a skeleton who must defend his subterranean land from human invaders and protect the (un)lives of his friends. At the same time, Skully will start to slowly unravelling the truth behind his own origins. Thankfully the game treats all of this with the knowing sense of absurdity that it deserves and really focuses on the platforming heart of its gameplay. That being said, Skully and his bat friend Imber are delightful characters that are just downright likeable, and have a charm that carries you through some of the more frustrating areas.
Graphically, Skelattack is like watching a cartoon. While not quite as polished as the likes of Cuphead, there was something about it that reminded me of that 1930s era or animation, particularly Disney’s famous ‘The Skeleton Dance’. The various NPCs also ooze charm and a lot of effort has gone into the design and look of Skully’s home. It is therefore a bit of a shame that the townsfolk mostly have little to say and that the advertised conversations and quests are fairly rudimentary. Luckily this isn’t an RPG, so doesn’t rely on this aspect to succeed.
When you start out on your journey to save the residents of the underworld you’ll only have a basic wall jump to rely on, but you soon pick up a trusty sword and can start battling the human ‘heroes’ and other foes who stand in your way. This sword is upgradeable and becomes pretty powerful by the end if you find all of the metals – you’ll want it to be, given some of the boss fights. These bosses are all tongue-in-cheek versions of classic RPG classes, from a barbarian and rogue, to paladin, bard and so on. The characterisation here is minimalist but works well with the popular conceptions of these character types. Each have attack patterns that fit their types and there is a nice old school feel to learning how to beat them. Fortunately, these parts aren’t overly challenging as you have an upgradeable life bar and can unlock healing magic, though with a little RPG logic this should hurt you as an undead…
The true challenge in Skelattack comes from the precise platforming required to make your way through the dungeons. In places, this feels heavily inspired by Super Meat Boy, not least in the way that wall jumping is handled. This masocore gameplay is somewhat at odds with the graphical style and there are a few particularly tricky areas with one hit deaths aplenty. The choice to pepper areas with instant death spikes doesn’t always gel with the inclusion of a health bar and some necessary paths feel more like they should be optional routes. That being said, my old man reactions were enough to see me finish the game, so this is far from a deal breaker.
Skully’s bat friend Imber also proves useful in various ways, both indirectly through learning magic abilities and, later in the game, more physically through transporting Skully in a Flappy Bird style minigame. Luckily this isn’t some throwaway clone of its inspirations, as Ukuza have massively improved on the original and refined it to actually be fun. The friendship between Skully and Imber is really charming and provides some great motivation in some of the narrative twists as their adventure develops. I would love to see a cartoon with these little guys.
Almost everything about Skelattack feels refined and honed to a high degree of polish, so it is a bit surprising that the difficulty level feels in need of some balancing. I actually found the game to be at its hardest at the start due to an excessive reliance on deadly spikes. These return throughout the game, but that first trek to locate your sword made the difficulty curve feel uneven. Persevere through this, however, and your effort will be rewarded with a delightful adventure.