Skelattack — Difficulty Spikes, Literally

When humans invade the town of the undead and kidnap the village elder, the unlikely duo of a Skeleton and a Bat team up to save the afterlife in action platformer — Skelattack.

Skelly the Skeleton and Imber, the bat familiar, are tasked with investigating why the humans have invaded and what has happened to the elder. Heading into the town shrine, the pair are coached in the basic actions utilised in traversing the world. Introductions to basic jumping and wall jumping are awarded a large sword giving the pair their first offensive option before they head out.

Progression through the levels rewards a number of abilities and upgrades as the dynamic duo advance. Each distinct map area hides both a number of upgrades to be hunted down in addition to one main ability that are generally used to access new areas locked off until it’s acquired. These powers can be upgraded further by visiting the town mage and trading with him for Embers dropped by enemies or found in chests.

Levels are divided into a number of small sections with exits similar to other platforming games although Skelattack has more in common with Metroidvania style platformers. The map is readily available and can be referenced to show the exits available in the current room and key items or interactions in the levels. Each map area also has a few fast travel points distributed around to make access back to town or other areas easy.

Life in Aftervale

Most levels follow the same premise of a key objective blocked or hampered by smaller side quests before an inevitable boss encounter. Abilities hidden in the levels are optional and although some cannot be missed there are two at least which are completely missable but make the game much easier.

Skelly and Imber have a health bar which depletes on contact with enemies, their weapons and on any contact with certain hazards. In the main however, it’s mute point given the checkpoints are numerous, even within each map segment. The platforming, the enemies and even some hazards are fairly easily navigated but the danger is in spikes, their placement and the instadeath that comes with touching them.

Similar to Super Meat Boy, death is instant, and mostly guaranteed the first time you enter an area since the developers have designed some truly frustrating sections in which to hide some of the collectable upgrades. One section in particular within the lava forge is very unforgiving and took quite some effort and patience to best. Death also comes with an additional penalty, the embers which Skelly collects from defeated enemies; and uses as currency for upgrades; takes a hit. This coupled with the difficulty spike (oh the irony) in some sections makes grinding for embers a required and laborious activity if you want to be fully powered at the end.

Avoid the Humans

That said, challenges are immediate, there are never any lengthy sections to repeat given checkpoints are so generously supplied. If you are stuck on a section; you will most likely spawn back at the edge of it; so players are directly back into the challenge rather than the stamina and patience draining process of getting back to that point. Additionally, given death is mostly meaningless, grabbing a chest in a difficult location and then respawning immediately at the closest checkpoint is a viable option. Skelly doesn’t sacrifice progress or pickups on death; other than the Embers mentioned earlier; which you have the option of grinding in a few areas. 

Graphically the style forgoes the ultra-clean, high-resolution approach seen in other recent platformers, but instead utilises a hand-drawn effect and a somewhat faded palette reminiscent of early 1950’s cartoons and put to good effect in bullet-hell shooter Cuphead. It’s really just missing the film grain effect. The soundtrack whilst repetitive is ideally matched to the dungeons and the undead theme with plenty of instruments and sounds often associated with the genre used to add some depth to the background tunes.

Players looking to Konami to release a new Castlevania inspired franchise with the style, difficulty and depth the eponymous series has become known for will likely be disappointed here. The fairly linear nature of the progression and a perceived lack of an ability to further customise Skelly’s repertoire shouldn’t detract from the graphical style, entertaining script and friendly, accessible (most of the time) approach.  

Skelattack doesn’t break any boundaries or new ground when it comes to 2D platformers but it does the basics well. The difficulty offered by instadeath hazards and the bosses may put some players off but overall it’s an enjoyable adventure topped off by the witty banter between its protagonists.

Skelattack is available now on Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch and PS4.

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