Because I might get a little bit harsh later in the review, I’d like to preface this by saying that I absolutely respect the amount of work put into Skully and the heart that its better components show. There was clearly a lot of passion included in the project, and that’s great.
Skully starts off fairly strong. You’re given control of a clay covered skull given sentience by a rock deity named Terry, and told to roll around a beach. Immediately, I am pleasantly surprised by how precise and satisfying the movement is when controlling Skully’s base form. A lot of fine tuning seems to have been done to make sure that it never feels too slippery or difficult to control. You never feel as if the game is at fault if you die (which I admittedly did quite often). This core foundation is Skully’s strongest asset, and it is unfortunately (no pun intended) all downhill from here.
As soon as the clay forms are introduced, things tend slow to a grinding halt, both literally and figuratively. This was likely done as a means to switch up the gameplay, but I find that their inclusion actually hampers the level design. You’re given three different clay forms, a large one that can punch and throw your skull form across the level (hands down the best clay form ability in the game), a smaller one that can run fast and move platforms horizontally, and a lanky one that can jump twice and move platforms vertically. Some of these abilities sound fun, no? Are they utilized in a meaningful way? Not really.
Most of the later game devolves into sprawling and exhausting segments where you’re desperately trying to get the platform moving mechanics to play nice. The swift form’s platform moving mechanics gets an automation upgrade later into the game, which allows the idle clay form to move the platform even whilst you’re not controlling it. Unfortunately, the controls are absolutely broken. It seems as if you just have to pray and hammer the button until you get something approximating the arc that you want, silently wishing you were playing another game. Level 15 very nearly broke me because of this. This got so unpleasant to play I don’t think I would have beaten the game were I not reviewing it.
The other mechanics go woefully underused and Skully himself really barely gets any time to roll around by the end of it, which is a shame, because the skull form is a lot of fun to play with. Had the developers designed more momentum based puzzles, I think they might have been able to make an entire game with just the rolling mechanics.
Graphically, the game is quite pretty. The lily pads and water textures in Wanda’s area are very crisp and the whole game looks very nice. The character models are a little strange at times but some of that can be chalked up to stylistic choices as the characters are deities.
The designs themselves are decent, though I feel there’s something of a lack of artistic cohesion at times. The Water Punks, for example, look like something out of Slime Rancher as opposed to the rest of the game, but it isn’t too distracting overall. Brent’s storm pompadour is excellent.
As for the story, it isn’t anything too special, but it works. You follow Skully as he tries to assist Terry in fixing his godly siblings’ rift in relationships, and there isn’t really much deviation from this. Terry and his sister Wanda have some good chemistry and there’s some interesting themes about self-perception and how others see the things you do. Brent is entertaining but largely relegated to comic relief, and Fiona is underdeveloped and something of a cut-out of a character. You spend most of your time with Terry, and the game does a decent job of framing him as a genuinely nice person. It’s a fun enough ride, but it isn’t much to write home about at the end of the day, and I didn’t really play the game for what I perceived to be an intriguing narrative anyway.
There’s some buried potential in Skully, and I didn’t hate all of my time with it. But it left a bitter taste in my mouth by the time I hit the finish line, and that’s the worst thing that a game could do. I hope Finish Line Games learns from what they achieved on this project, because I see a lot of talent hidden within.
If Skully 2 ever rolls around, I’ll be here to try it.
Skully (Reviewed on Windows)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
Disappointing, but with a glimmer of hope down the line for a better iteration.