Skul: The Hero Slayer

Have you ever wanted to rip your own head off and throw it at someone? Of course you have. Who hasn’t had that random urge to decollate themselves and beat their enemies to death with their own severed nugget? Well, Skul: The Hero Slayer is a game that lets you rip off your own head and throw it at things, or shove another head on and get a whole host of new abilities.

You play a skeleton. A low-level minion in a monstrous kingdom ruled over by the Demon King. The issue is that despite your lowly status, you’re the only one left that can save your leige. The humans have attacked and laid waste to your kingdom. They killed your friends, stole your loot, and kidnapped your king. Now you’re out to save the kingdom one self-decapitation at a time.

Skul is a side-scrolling action adventure that sees you tackling randomly generated levels full of enemies by using your skills and skills you borrow from other skulls you find throughout the game. As mentioned, self-decapitation is the main gameplay mechanic that sets Skul apart from other games of its kind. You can carry two skulls on you, each one representing a class with their own abilities and attack patterns. Switching between skulls also triggers an ability, so optimal play is going to involve switching often between the two skulls.

The skulls come in a wide variety of forms. Some are obviously based on popular gaming and media characters; one skull was based on Kratos of God of War fame while my favourite skull was one that referenced Ghost Rider of Marvel Comics. There are also legendary skulls, one of which is the Grim Reaper himself. Each skull has two to three abilities, so when you’re switching between skulls rapidly you’re going to be juggling about five or six abilities, adding a lot of depth to the combat. Some skulls are vastly more powerful than others, which I found a little disappointing since the game’s difficulty did require me often using the most optimal skull instead of being more experimental with finding the niche of the less powerful skulls.

There are some rogue-like elements to the game as well. Each run allows you to collect various items and power ups that are lost on death. This, along with the random nature of finding skulls, can lead to some runs ending very quickly as you find a lackluster skull and no good items while other runs will seem very easy as you luck out with a powerful skull early and get some nice items. The game has a good difficulty curve. Each enemy requires a strategy to beat and each mini-boss and boss has a pattern that you can observe, learn and eventually master.

Skul has pretty standard pixel graphics for a game of this type. They’re clear and readable but the character designs aren’t much to write home about. The main character has a lot of charm and the various skulls can look pretty cool, but a lot of the enemy designs look like they could be grabbed from any assortment of 16-bit sidescrollers. The music fits the action and pacing well, making fights feel suitably epic and making the experience feel like a real adventure. Controls are tight on a controller but I found mouse and keyboard to be lacking, which isn’t surprising for this type of game. Any time I died or took a hit, I felt it was my fault and not the fault of unresponsive inputs.

For an Early Access game, there is a lot here. Enough to keep me entertained and planning to play the game some more. I’m hoping they keep adding new skulls and fill out the enemy diversity. What’s here is already a great game, he’s hoping for the future.

~~S. W. Jackson~~

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