Skellboy Review

Gaming article by Sam Gowing on Sunday, February 9, 2020 - 13:00
Review
Topic(s):
Game Info
Release Date
January 30, 2020
Platforms
Nintendo Switch, PC

A Game with No Body To Go With

Skellboy is a classic save-the-kingdom adventure tale with an unlikely hero. He's the sole member of an undead horde that refuses to do its master’s bidding. It’s a charming premise, but one that’s ultimately underdeveloped - a sentiment that underpins most of Skellboy. Skellboy’s bony protagonist is a fitting one; the game feels like several underdeveloped bits and pieces, leaving little more than the skeleton of a typical hack-and-slash action-adventure.

Skellboy dressed in a zombie head and princesses' dress
Dressed to impress

Skellboy Review | Armless fun

The royal wizard-turned-evil warlock Squarumon summons an army of the undead upon the Cubold Kingdom. In need of a savior, the citizenry turns to Skellboy, a virtuous skeleton accidentally resurrected alongside the bad guys. With the added luxury of conscious thought, Skellboy comes to arms and fights back against the undead horde. At least, he will after you find him a pair of legs.

Skellboy’s inventory is similar to adventure RPGs, with armor slots and abilities to power up your character. The key difference is how they’re categorized: by head, torso, and feet. Enemies drop ‘body parts’ when defeated, allowing you to swap out and test their effects. By the time I reached the first boss, my skeletal body had mushroom feet and a zombie’s head (and wore a princesses’ dress to round out the look).

Body parts grant you the usual power-ups - bat-wing feet improves movement speed, knight’s armor increases health, zombie entrails grant poison immunity in exchange for fewer hearts. Body parts are Skellboy’s defining trait, throwing a whimsical spin on the usual inventory slots. You can search for the most powerful combination (wearing a complete set will provide you with additional buffs) or you can just have fun dressing up in vegetable-themed garments or run around without a head.

Playing through Skellboy leaves a trail of body parts in your wake that would make any organ donor proud (if a little queasy). However, the novelty fades as the campaign wears on. While the second half introduces the ability to collect and switch out body parts - changing your appearance depending on your enemies - there isn’t enough complexity to feel much need to do so. I stuck with the knight’s armor set for 80% of my playthrough, as additional health seemed like the clear winner in terms of perks.

After taking a blonde wig from a fallen boss, you use it to sneak into the castle safe room under the guise of the royal princess. It’s a shame the disguise element wasn’t explored further, as it could have made for a nice change of pace (and a reason to avoid the game’s clunky combat).

Pumpkin-headed skellboy in dark dungeon
Surprisingly, pumpkins offer better health benefits than steel armor

Skellboy Review | Missing parts

Skellboy’s weapons offer similar variety, battling enemies with swords, clubs, axes, lances, and wands. Each offers a slightly different way to play - swords have a longer reach, lances can be thrown, clubs offer a damage radius effect - but fights ultimately boil down to pressing the attack button repeatedly until everything’s dead. During combat, Skellboy’s movement feels at its most laborious. All but the highest-tier weapons take an age to swing and Skellboy feels in desperate need of a dash or dodge roll. Despite enemies’ limited movesets, groups of three or more foes quickly drain your hearts as there’s simply no way to avoid attacks. This culminates in boss fights that leave you feeling hopelessly outmatched, progressing by trial and error over skill.

Regular save points mean that you never repeat huge chunks of the story, and you even retain weapons and body parts when you respawn. Of course, that does make fighting enemies largely irrelevant once you have high-level items. Return trips through castle halls and fields play out more like evasive speed runs than the hack-and-slash nature Skellboy wants you to take.

Skellboy’s rapid-fire respawning is a silver lining but its confusing level design casts the requisite dark cloud. There is a noticeable lack of help with regards to moving through levels. Labyrinthian castle and dungeon sections contain breakable walls and hanging boxes that blend too easily into the background. You must cut the latter down with a mounted crossbow, but aiming them involves awkwardly running into it to make it turn left or right. There’s a dev-created wiki to help you, (useful for finding out you’re even supposed to cut the rope with an arrow) but referring to a walkthrough just to finish the main story suggests the developer knew they should compensate for a lack of in-game direction.

Skellboy travelling through brightly lit field
The Cubold Kingdom is easy on the eye but suffers from regular performance issues

Skellboy Review | Pretty looking; poor performance

Skellboy is a pretty display of what modern consoles can achieve with 8-bit graphics. 2D sprites sit on top of a 3D isometric map like a medieval Paper Mario. The outskirts of the Cubold Kingdom are a mix of colorful fields, swamps, and courtyards, each filled with cutely animated sprites. The interior locales lack the same character. The dungeons feel more like drab recreations of actual dungeons than the playful and spooky versions you might expect from the genre. A chip-based soundtrack accompanies gameplay, with just enough iterations on the main theme to remain tolerable, providing you let it dissolve into the background rather than pay any real attention to its existence.

Unfortunately, Skellboy suffers a lot from framerate drops and stutters. More unfortunate is the fact that this is a common issue for games running on the Nintendo Switch - particularly in its handheld mode. So, I’m reluctant to put it all on the developer - which has published a useful public Trello board for reporting bugs and tracking fixes. Hopefully, the Steam version, releasing later this year, will be free of these problems. There were, however, other blips - like enemies becoming unresponsive if you hit them onto a ledge or a wall.

a knight fights off zombies
The most effective armor combinations usually involve a vegetable theme

Skellboy Review | Not enough meat on its bones

Skellboy’s twist on the usual inventory formula is a big plus, but the rest lacks much merit. The addition of disguises, leveling up of base traits like damage and speed, or balancing of body part perks could have elevated Skellboy to something more memorable. While its skeleton is intact, there’s not enough meat on its bones to leave a lasting impression.


TechRaptor reviewed Skellboy on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the developer.

 

Review Summary

5.5
A standard hack-and-slash adventure, Skellboy offers a fun twist on the usual inventory format. Beyond that, though, performance issues and a general lack of polish leave the game feeling underdeveloped

Pros

  • 'Body Parts' Provide a Fun and Fresh Take on Armor Management
  • Colorful 8-bit Art Style

Cons

  • Little to Differentiate Itself From The Pack
  • Mundane Combat and Slow Movement
  • Regular, Substantial Framerate Drops

About the Author

its me

Sam Gowing

Staff Writer

I didn't play a videogame that wasn't Snake II or Pokemon Red until I was about 12. Since then I've been trying to make up for lost time, loving anything with a sprawling single-player campaign. And also lots of Halo.