Skully is a charming puzzle game that’s deceptively cute. It draws you in with unique and interesting visuals, but hooks you with its increasingly difficult puzzles. As you gain more abilities you’re just faced with more obstacles, and while it can get frustrating, you’re never really that far from getting the solution perfect.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an easy game by any stretch of the imagination. If you’re not interested in a puzzler that will push you, then move right along. If however, you enjoy a game that challenges you, sometimes to your limits, then this might just be your latest fix.
Developer: Finish Line Games
Publisher: Modus Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: August 4th, 2020
Skully has a lighthearted story that rarely takes itself seriously. You play a skull, the result of one magical being attempting to create a golem of sorts that will help him solve the feud with his siblings. Unfortunately for you, his powers are dreadful. That means that you’re just a skull which can do little more than roll around and jump, initially at least.
The story is told through short narrative cutscenes that do a great job of getting the point across. However they don’t look that great, certainly not as good as the rest of the game. Still, it’s a plot that provides a reason for the world to exist, and really that’s all you need for a charming little game like this.
With that said, I do have to admit that I fell in love with the characters, even Skully itself. They’re played extremely well, and they’re all pretty memorable for the most part, particularly Skully’s bumbling creator.
The gameplay mostly revolves around getting Skully from the start of a level, through some insane geometry, to the end. The environment begins to change pretty quickly once you’re into the second level, meaning that you’ll need to make use of every ability at your disposal.
From the start, Skully is capable of rolling very fast, jumping, and clutching onto certain surfaces in order to roll up and across walls. However, after a short time you’ll gain the ability to use clay pools to create golems. These add another layer of complexity to the game’s puzzles, and things only get trickier from here.
Each puzzle is made up of the environment of the level. Nothing feels artificial. In a way, this gives the game a unique look, because you have to really investigate each route in order to figure out where the correct path forward is.
Every level is packed with collectible flowers, which you can go back for once you’ve finished a chapter. Collecting these rewards you with concept art, which brings some much needed depth to the game once you’re done with your first playthrough.
There are three golems in total; one strong yet slow, one fast and weak, and one that can double jump. As you unlock each golem, the puzzles only get more complicated. Soon you can find yourself combining the use of one or two golems, needing to eject Skully at the last second in order to reach a far away ledge.
Most puzzles will have an obvious solution, you just need to attempt them a few times before it becomes clear. Each section of a puzzle is well laid-out, but when you reach the next stage, you need to act quickly, or watch Skully drown.
This is where the game can be really frustrating. I can’t tell you how many times I threw my Switch to the side of me on the sofa because I got too angry when I failed the same puzzle once again. The thing is, that’s a core part of Skully too.
You can’t go into this game expecting you be able to breeze though every puzzle. It takes a lot of work and concentration, which will sometimes drive you to distraction. If you can’t handle a game that’s going to make you rage out a couple of times, then this isn’t for you.
Skully is at its best when you’re using multiple golems in the same puzzle. You can abandon them anywhere in a level, and come back to them when you need to. In this way you can also have golems performing tasks for you, allowing you to solve puzzles across huge locations in the game’s environment.
The golems themselves are pretty awesome, but the platforming throughout the game feels very off. Movement as Skully on its own, the rolling skull, is particularly difficult. You never truly feel like you have a grasp over how quickly you’ll roll, or how high you’ll jump.
Angles ledges prove to be the hardest challenge in the game as Skully. These will see the poor skull fall into the water and drown in just a few seconds. The environments have almost certainly been built to hinder you escaping the water with jumps, and that just feels cheap to me.
If the game was slightly more forgiving in these sections, arguably the most difficult, then I would say it was fair. As things stand though, the game could definitely do with some quality of life updates to bring some balance to the gameplay.
Overall, Skully looks pretty great. On the Nintendo Switch the draw distance leaves a lot to be desired, but for the most part everything looks lush and natural. Skully, the golems, and of course the elemental beings of the world, are all made from nature. Their look adds to the unique feel of the game.
I have to say, Skully definitely looks better graphically on other platforms. The Nintendo Switch does have a small boost when in docked mode, but it’s certainly not the version to play if you want an astoundingly beautiful version of the game.
The music and sound design in Skully is top notch. I have no complaints about it, in fact I’d say it was overdone for a puzzle game. Though with the performances the actors give in the cutscenes, I can see why the sound design is so well done.
These elements of the game do help you come to terms with some of the more annoying elements. Ultimately though, they aren’t enough to make up for the flaws in key mechanics.
I had a great time playing Skully. It’s an enjoyable 8 hour adventure that I think most people will enjoy. Even if you’re not especially into puzzle games, I think you’d be surprised with how interested in Skully you’ll become.
Here you have a great puzzle game that blends challenge with the environment. The story is enough to keep you moving, and the evolution of gameplay over the course of that story is intriguing and well-paced. Despite the flaws it might have, Skully is still a very competent puzzler, and that should be enough to convince you to play it.
Skully was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by Modus Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.