For a fan of fantasy venture into a dungeon full of monsters and dangerous creatures in search of gold, artifacts or other types of wealth is the daily bread. However, we never stopped to think what the occupants think of these underground places? Maybe they don't like a group of humans to arrive, exterminate the entire population and leave with the treasure accumulated over years and years of hard work. The publisher Uzuka, Konami e David Stanley they joined together to tell us a story seen from another point of view: that of the invaded. Skeletons, demons and other nightmarish creatures abandon their reputation as dangerous monsters and become playful and cheerful inhabitants of the subsoil, with a civilization to protect and a threat to defend against. After the first version of the game, released in 2018 for PC and Xbox, we are now ready to savor a completely renewed and improved adventure, which aims to revolutionize the genre, at least as far as fiction is concerned. Skelattack, a colorful and musically delightful dungeon crawler, will soon be available on PC (via Steam), Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Without further ado, let's explore what this title has to offer. In addition to questionable jokes about skeletons.
La plot it's the first surprise Skelattack has to offer. At first glance, we are faced with one simple and easy-going story: a forgetful skeleton named Skully and his bat friend Imber must defend their home, an underground dungeon populated by monsters, from the invasion of fierce human warriors who wish to appropriate the most powerful underground relic. Between playful scenarios, typical fantasy battles and small details on the life of these creatures, we find that in reality the journey of the protagonists hides very deep secrets, which reveal under the veil of banality very engaging and exciting moments. These are also made such by the soundtrack of exceptional quality, by the well-constructed dialogues that fully convey the character of the characters and above all by the pressing rhythm that never leaves too much or little space between one event and another, speeding up in important points and slowing down how much the gameplay is taking the floor. Overall it takes 7/8 hours to reach the end, without counting the extra areas, the collectibles and all the minutes thrown because of the automatic jump (we get there early). The salty dog and Imber they are excellent protagonists and their charisma can only delight those who are looking for simple stories characterized by funny characters and some epic moments that fit well into the puzzle.
Key word: differentiation
Speaking of gameplay, the association with the category of dungeon crawlers is not entirely perfect: Skelattack is in his heart a Metroidvania and shares many elements with Hollow Knight and similar games. Horizontal exploration based on jumps and self-propelled platforms, skills that unlock with advancement, unique boss fights and articulated maps are fully part of its design. What most amazes and highlights this work compared to its cousins is certainly the differentiation of each setting, which almost always introduces an innovative and rarely seen element in its own kind. Each change of map leads us to study the game mechanics again, pushing us to try new approaches or discover different uses for our skills. Furthermore, where Skully cannot go, his leading role is assigned to Imber and we are offered some unique sections, in which we take flight and try small aerial puzzles with lots of complex fights and maneuvers. This deep and continuous differentiation in the game structure is what makes the adventure truly fun, stimulating and continually new, with little chance of boring. The difficulty level it is also well studied and it is especially noticeable in the bosses, few but perfect to test our observation and learning skills of the enemies. A little' disappointing they are however i normal enemies of Skelattack, which are very often shamelessly reused and have a single attack move, sometimes very easy to read and other times tremendously annoying. So we end up quickly arriving not to fear these opponents and take the damage in the face to get them out of the way, also because they take a long time to return. This would essentially be the ideal method to face any danger, if not for a clause that is going to ruin everything: the economy.
Il "monetary" system of Skelattack is one of its two annoying flaws. Taking full advantage of the popularity of the Souls, here too we run the risk of lose with every death a part of the few gems we earn, if we are unable to recover them. If this works well in a 3D action, here it often ends in the fullest disaster. Falling into a ravine causes our loot to get stuck at the bottom, impossible to recover without a second death (and yet another loss). At other times it gets stuck in unreachable places or, even worse, vanishes into thin air for no reason - for example in boss fights, where every defeat equals the perennial disappearance of part of our possessions. The system is already extremely punitive basic: we combine this with the high cost of the upgrades and the inability to "farm" the enemies and we have a game element that continually causes our full frustration. Everything gets worse when the second defect enters the field, that is the automatic controls. In fact, when we are near a wall, a small movement of the lever is enough to make Skully bounce in the opposite direction. This element, unless we are sufficiently competent and delicate, often makes it uncontrollable the character and leads him to crash on thorns and obstacles, resulting in the loss of gems. In case you were wondering, you cannot disable the option. The automatic jump causes more accidental deaths than you can imagine at the beginning and very little we can do to preserve our finances, if not invest everything as soon as we reach the quota for a purchase. Luckily, upgrades are not essential on completion of the game, but some small help to the player would have made the system much less annoying.
Concerts from the dead
Where, however, this pair of defects causes anger or dissatisfaction, alla colonna sonora it only takes a few seconds to get us back into a good mood. Skelattack's music is the pinnacle of the game's artistic composition, capable of giving vitality and depth to the world, characters, battles and settings. With a style that closely resembles the melodies of Toby Fox for the legendary Undertale, it is impossible not to find yourself humming during the adventure. In addition to rhythms that perfectly embody the concept of "skeleton music" (I'm looking at you, Bonetrousle), we pass by cheerful and carefree songs a fast beats that guide us through fast-paced game sections. Each note is spot on and each place has its own tone, with one surprise around every corner for those who can appreciate a good soundtrack. Even the sound design manages to keep up with this level of quality, despite the lack of dubbing of the characters - not necessarily verbal, even just a sound. Beyond this, we can say with certainty that we are facing one author composition, which has been able to impart strength and life to its creation with the right accompaniment. Congratulations to the graphics, which has received a significant improvement over the past. In contrast to the arcade and pixellated look of the first versions, this new release has a remarkable level of detail and a 'excellent differentiation of colors and styles between one environment and another. Just to remind us that, every now and then, the purity of the design also manages to outperform photorealism.
And they all perished happily ever after
In conclusion, Skelattack is a small title with a big heart and many emotions to give to players. Simple and accessible, it is still able to offer a worthy challenge to even the most expert and make them fall in love with the notes of the excellent soundtrack that distinguishes it. To reward the differentiation in gameplay and in the settings, the economy system, which is all too punitive and the absence of a way to deactivate the automatic jump, is a little less deserving. Started as a small twist in the dungeon crawler formula, the work has made great strides and now is approaching equal the great classics of the metroidvania genre, at least in style and musical power. In case you are in doubt, give this game a chance, because it deserves. The next time you venture into a dungeon in search of treasure, remember: there could be a Skully to hinder you. And he, gentlemen, is a hard bone.