Lacking meat on its bones, Skelattack has disjointed pieces and parts that add up to create an awkward, though heartwarming, side-scrolling platformer. You can see snippets of a precise platformer in Skelattack, but they are too sporadic and underutilized to really make you sweat. In a game centered on a human invasion of the afterlife, there sure aren’t very many enemies, and most of them remain in place or move like molasses, emulating the dead far more than the warm-blooded humans they’re supposed to be. Skelattack’s identity crisis is further fueled by its far too brief length, which prevents any of its solid ideas from coming into their own.
Starring a chipper skeleton named Skully and his lovable bat-pal Imber, Skelattack tells the story of a peculiarly joyous world of the dead, dubbed Aftervale, that’s suddenly invaded by the wretched humans who seek immortality.
Developed by Ukuza, Skelattack is the debut title in Konami’s new push to publish games made by Western studios. And while your mind likely jumps to Castlevania when you think Konami, Skelattack doesn’t evoke the labyrinthine design of the publisher’s influential franchise. Instead, what you get is a linear world with few instances where you’re able to go off the beaten path to uncover hidden chests with upgrades or currency. The world is separated into a handful of different areas, each with its own obstacles to pass and enemies to either avoid or eliminate. All of them wind up feeling rather similar in practice, since Skelattack doesn’t really build on its mechanics over time.
Skully can double-jump, an ability that is used in almost every room. Whether wall-jumping, vaulting through a maze of precarious spikes, or avoiding projectiles, Skelattack’s best segments ask you to be dialed in. In its strongest spots, you have to string together jumps while navigating minefields of dangerous objects. Carefully timing your jumps and double jumps to land safely on solid ground can be thrilling, especially when you’re forced to consider not only the current jump, but your next move, too. These great moments are all about committing to a plan and executing it to perfection. Unfortunately, the briefness of these tricky maneuvers and the absence of real stakes suffocates an adventure that shows glimpses of greatness and genuinely clever platforming sequences in places.
Even though Skelattack has tight controls and fluid animations, both the platforming and combat suffer as a result of the layout of many areas. Skelattack fails to capitalize on its pulse-racing sections by placing too much cushion between them. Or, in some cases, sequences are broken up by an excessive number of checkpoints, which are found in practically every room and in greater numbers in more taxing rooms. When the threat of instant death disappears, you’re left going through the motions in a world that is now strangely unthreatening. Occasionally, you take control of Imber to navigate through tight spaces, fluttering through obstacles. Though it’s a nice change of pace, these instances are also fleeting.
Death also causes you to lose a portion of the gems you’ve accrued. They float at the spot of your death, and you can retrieve them in full as long as you don’t die on the way back. Otherwise, you keep losing more and more with each death. This is complicated by the fact that if you’re impaled by spikes, retrieving lost gems is annoyingly challenging, because they float right above the spikes. This may sound like a big deal, but gems are trivial and the purchases you make with your fortune don’t matter much when death isn’t much of a punishment to begin with.
Over the course of your journey to stop the humans, you can buy upgrades for your health and various abilities: heal, a projectile attack, a third jump, and a secret ability that comes into play far too late to make an impactful difference. All of your abilities use magic, but the only truly useful one is heal, which winds up negating the difficulty of what would otherwise be tough boss fights. Once you purchase an upgrade or two for heal, you can brute force every combat encounter–namely bosses–without having to worry about dying.
Skelattack has fluid, though rudimentary combat. You simply need to slash your sword and hop away to avoid attacks. And your only real opportunity to make use of the combat is in boss fights. However, because you can take a lot of damage and heal yourself instantly, these well-designed bosses–a flying archer, a powerful mage, a tag team duo of a warrior and lute player, and more–wind up being far less formidable than they initially appear. It’s disappointing considering that boss fights actually make pretty good use of the platforming mechanics, often taking place in dynamic rooms where you have to use the environment–platforms, moving conveyor belts, and spring-loaded mushrooms–to get hits in. Sadly, since you quickly become overpowered to physical threats, these fights don’t have the opportunity to shine.
Outside of boss fights, it’s surprising how few enemies are positioned across the map. Sword-wielding knights make up the bulk of the enemies, but they are so slow and unimposing that they might as well not be there. Other enemies, for the most part, act more as additional environmental fixtures rather than true threats, as they are seemingly incapable of moving from their positions. Magic-wielding enemies lob fireballs, while stoic humans playing lutes hurl sound waves that can push you off course while jumping around. If more prevalent in numbers and dynamic, these enemies would add a meaningful layer to Skelattack; instead, their minimal presence amplifies the uneven reality of this world, and combat gets pushed into the back of your mind until the next boss showdown.
Despite its balance and progression woes, Skelattack still manages to sneak in some charm in spots. Lighthearted dialogue between Skully and Imber and the other denizens of Aftervale is often humorous and flies in the face of what’d you expect from skeletons, rat kings, imposing rock beings, and sentient flames. There’s a kindness in Skelattack that is cozy and infectious. Its welcoming personality combined with colorful visuals and melodic soundtrack make even damp sewers, a fiery cavern, and a literal dungeon seem rather pleasant. It’s just a shame that the moment-to-moment gameplay doesn’t live up to the endearing atmosphere.
Skelattack moves quickly toward its conclusion, with the adventure to stave off the invasion winding down in about four hours. There’s nothing wrong with short games that can be played in an afternoon or two, but what’s here never becomes a fully realized experience. The length wouldn’t be a problem if Skelattack delivered a fully realized experience, but it fails to do so. Skelattack has flashes of excitement and delight, and there’s no denying that it feels good in motion, but lackluster level design and inconsequential combat let its sound platforming down. Unlike the inhabitants of Aftervale, Skelattack lacks soul.