There were stretches in Skully where I felt like I was eight years old again. That almost zen state a collectathon platformer can put you in where you just chase after the next doodad, the buttery smooth controls and physics whisking you whimsically away from spot to spot with ease. It just might be the most colorful and upbeat experience ever about playing as a re-animated human skull to come out this year.
The build I played of Skully wasn't exactly big on story. You're on a string of islands, you are a skull that's been brought back to life by magic tar, and there is some set-up about a family of magic-users who is fighting over control of the islands and you're here to help. In this case, you are helping by rolling around through the sand from place to place, collecting flowers, and trying to avoid any source of water.
It's a rudimentary set-up that doesn't get in the way of the real star of the show: the platforming. Movement in Skully is physics-based. You roll around, picking up speed and momentum to help you reach farther and higher than normal, but you also maintain just the right level of control. You can turn on a dime, change direction in mid-air, and the camera maintains a perfect distance from you. It's one of many small touches that help make this feel so great to play.
The first level practically felt like a roller coaster attraction. Rocks and sandbars were set up as ramps and curves, daring me to skip and speed along as quickly as my cranium could go. The art style maintained this euphoric rush with cartoonish character designs and a bright color palette.
It wasn't until the second level that things became more complex. In addition to rolling and jumping, you can also create clay bodies, humanoid constructs that can walk around and interact with the world. The one in the demo could create shockwaves and break through walls, which was helpful for getting past some water-spewing baddies and making some improvised bridges.
I had a more thrilling time zipping through the sand as a skull but I do appreciate the puzzle-element the clay bodies introduce. It mixes things up with just enough environmental puzzles so you don't just lazily fly through everything. The puzzles themselves aren't anything fancy, punch out this wall, clear these enemies, knock over this to form a bridge, etc., but they get the job done.
I do have complaints. While the levels themselves are well-designed, taking advantage of forward momentum and control, the environments containing them are sparse. Long stretches of featureless ocean can be seen and low-quality skyboxes are noticeable. Furthermore, the game's soundtrack is a constant string of repeating instrumental loops with minimal variety. Hopefully, this won't be the case with the full release. But if I was getting sick of the music in the span of an hour-long preview, it doesn't bode well for carrying an experience that can potentially go up to eight.
In short, Skully left quite the first impression on me. In many ways, it feels like a high-concept mascot platformer that never got made circa 2000 with its mix of physics platforming, bright and colorful art, and possibly insidious story implications (you're playing as a sentient skull for Pete's sake). But it has it where it counts with some great platforming fundamentals and a brisk approach to level design. Color me interested in how they continue these ideas when the game fully comes out this August.
TechRaptor previewed Skully on PC with a code provided by the publisher. The game will be launching on August 4th for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.