Lacking meaty gameplay is one thing, but the disappointing Skellboy usually feels as if even its bony foundation wasn’t put together quite right. The resulting clunky joints and misshapen parts make for a stilted and often frustrating trip through a colorful world of paper-thin pixelated knights and zombies that unfortunately rarely engages in its janky hack’n’slash action, the well-meaning but bland writing, or its stuttering visuals.
The quirky setup for Skellboy is somewhat appealing in its breezy twist on the tried-and-true story of a brave knight’s quest to save the princess and kingdom from an evil wizard’s onslaught of monsters — even the narrator gets overrun by the undead before he can properly finish his intro. In steps the titular hero, a skeleton that just happened to have been resurrected as well, and who now picks up sword and shield — and whatever body parts he can find that might help along the way — to perpetrate chivalrous deeds from beyond the grave.
Unfortunately, this is likely the last time Skellboy will draw players into the experience. Almost as soon as control over Skippy the skeleton knight is handed over, the sluggish movement, iffy platforming, and clumsy weapon wielding stirs foreboding thoughts that this adventure will not be as pleasant as its cheery atmosphere might suggest. A quick tutorial explains the basics of zombie slaying, but from there, players will awkwardly shuffle out into the wide open beyond the castle gates where a small, linear map (that nevertheless comes off as sprawling and unfocused) will initiate newcomers to the backtracking and annoying enemy regeneration yet to come.
Those patient enough to look past the repetitiveness of the imprecise, laggy combat will find Skippy’s quest taking them to dark dungeons, soldiers’ barracks, and green fields packed with monsters and not much else outside the odd treasure chest or two. Skippy can also pick up enhancements dropped by various enemies or smashed boxes which might provide anything from improved armor to an exploding head that can be used to bomb walls. The concept of swapping out body parts is fun — and occasionally funny — but like with so much of Skellboy, leaves something to be desired in its execution. It’s hard to know when items are an upgrade without trying them on and then checking them out in the menu screen, which quickly becomes a pesky start-and-stop pacing roadblock.
It’s another example of an idea that doesn’t get fleshed out enough; as a result, it turns into an annoying distraction rather than a welcome bit of depth. Really, many of Skellboy‘s distinctive parts are par for the course for the adventure genre, and are ones which would not necessarily be a negative on their own save for the way they are assembled and implemented. And with that basic framework not solid enough to stand on its own, the rough gameplay, questionable level design, and chugging framerate stick out even more, especially when in the thick of (re)killing things. Boss fights are especially enraging, as the nimbleness of these powerful foes only emphasizes Skippy’s unwieldiness even more. These mismatched tests will take some practice — and maybe even a little luck — to get through.
It’s also a shame that even the visuals often can’t be enjoyed, as at times there’s a nice pixelated-Paper-Mario look going on when the stuttering doesn’t kick in. Though the backgrounds do get generic, the character sprites are lively and pleasing; if only the characterizations had followed suit. Skellboy is sincere in trying to bring some levity to the proceedings, but only manages well-worn material that indie gamers will have been exposed to many times before.
In the end, Skellboy plays a lot like the jumbled parts of its hero look: as a bunch of bones that needed a bit longer to grow and work together.
*Editor’s Note: the publisher has stated that an upcoming patch will improve the overall experience. This review is for the game as it is released, with no knowledge of whether these fixes will actually mollify any of our concerns. The notes for the patch can be found here.