So, we enter 2021 with a lot of unease and tension, since 2020 was such a cracking year. But fear not everyone, we have the right way to start your new year gaming needs, another Rogue-like hits the market. Yay! So with Supergiant Games’ smash hit Hades having elevated the bar and rejiggered the stale old formula, it’s up to developers to either push the bar further or simply create a solid and fun-filled experience with some neat new twists.
Does Skul: The Hero Slayer do either? Read on.What is Skul: The Hero Slayer?
Skul is a lovable little skeleton who’s embarking on a rather epic adventure. War has broken out between the humans and demons and in this story, it seems like the humans are the real villains (no surprise there). The demons want to live a peaceful existence but the humans are having none of that, and so decide to fight the demons and take their king as a prisoner. All of this has been orchestrated by the legendary "Great Hero", a champion of the humans and the most powerful fighter in the kingdom.
Skul manages to get caught up in the war and tries their best to free the demon king. But sadly, Skul meets a rather brutal demise at the hand of the Great Hero himself. However, a kind Witch brings Skul back to life and leads them on their dangerous venture to free the demon king and save the day. However, if Skul should meet their demise again, they must start from the very beginning and try again … as with any Rogue-like.
But thankfully Skul will meet others who will provide assistance by offering gifts and items that will aid their journey. Making them stronger and more powerful with each run. What we have here is a standard rogue-like formula/set-up, but what makes Skul worth your time? Considering the number of other great rogue-like games.What makes Skul worth your time?
The one thing that Skul: The Hero Slayer does outstandingly well among the many Rogue-likes on the market is having a very creative and fun system that alters Skul as a warrior. The “Skull System”, a mechanic that allows you to switch between a number of different skulls, each with its own powers and skills, brings a great deal of variety and creativity to the combat. You'll start off with Skul's original Skull that has a basic melee and ranged attack, but you can obtain others that can completely alter you as a warrior.
There are skulls that turn you into a Werewolf creature, one that turns you into a Ghost-Rider type Biker with insane motoring skills, another which seems to be a homage to Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy and even a Kratos knock-off (there are a few knock-offs here, but more in a satirical sense). But one of my favourites would have to be the deadly Grim Reaper. There is quite a selection of skulls to pick up but also mix and match. You can carry two at one time to swap whenever you fancy changing things up or if you need to change tactics for a certain encounter.
For example, you can have a skull that’s great for long-range attacks and another that deals heavy melee damage or stronger magical attacks for the right occasion. Most of these skulls can be upgraded, improving their stats. While many of these skulls provide the essential needs for combat and traversal, many others bring out some amazing displays of onscreen slaughter that’s simply a spectacle at times. There’s a lot of fun discovering all the skulls and each one does feel unique and useful, depending on your play style. Of course, Skul: The Hero Slayer is rogue-like and one that heavily depends on RNG (Random Number Generation) which definitely shows at times. Depending on the logic in the backend, the overall venture can some of the best action/adventuring in a rogue-like or just a tedious grind-fest that's brutally unfair. Story
Skul: The Hero Slayer won’t compete with the likes of Hades or even Dead Cells, but is still a fairly nice and memorable tale. It’s your good versus evil set-up with some interesting twists, but nothing that really compels the overall narrative to new heights. The supporting cast is fine, with some great characters being quite memorable, such as a humanoid Fox who is a hunter, the two Witches that help you along your journey and Skul, while voiceless is a cute little character and one I just root for no matter what.
The world itself is very beautiful to look at and there are some wonderful locations/environments you will be passing through. But overall, for a basic plot, there is a lot of needless exposition and chatter. Random characters will appear and just spew endless dialogue that serves no purpose. It feels a little too much like a first draft that hasn't been trimmed down or edited to make it flow better. Thankfully you only have to hear these exchanges once and not on multiple runs.
The story is absolutely fine, but nothing to shout about. Considering we have other games with much more interesting lore, set-ups and progressions that engage players throughout the journey and even can work in part with gameplay. i.e Hades. Gameplay
Skul again keeps things simple, but all the right elements are there and once together, it can be an absolute blast! As you may have guessed, Skul will need to move through several locations, defeating enemies, fighting bosses, and picking up useful items to help make it to the end of the run. Through the 15 hours or so campaign, you'll be expected to die, a lot. But with each death comes strength for Skul as they level up certain attributes such as Total Health, Damage output and even special skills that help avoid death when needed most. These permanent perks and abilities will certainly be needed as the run itself become progressively harder and by the end, you'll need a miracle just to survive.
Just expect that each run will bring its own challenges and while you become more powerful, the enemy AI will also gain a small advantage by earning XP. This is to make sure you do not just flunk it and do your best to remember their behaviours, attacks, and calls in order to avoid any damage as much as possible.
Each of the five locations has its own enemy lineup, level structure, and hazards you must face. I do admire the creativity here with the level designs ranging from bright and colour forest areas with plenty of spike pits and poisonous trees, to murky and dark underground labs where enemies explode upon death! The enemy line-ups are varied and fun to fight, with the boss designs looking great too and everything is accompanied by a really great soundtrack. The action can go from 0 to 11 in the blink of an eye and depending on what skull you have; it’ll either be an epic bloodbath or an epic failure for you. But everything from the level design, enemy line-ups, and Skulls you pick up can work wonders to making a fun run.
Skul allows you to pick a route at the end of each zone and each path can contain either a new skull, coins or a useful item that can increase physical/magical damage, total health or something more special. There's a good amount of choice at most times, but there are plenty of instances where you will be only given one gate to exit. I wasn't sure why this design choice was made as it felt very constrictive at times and forced me down a path I may or may not have wanted. Still, Skul and players will manage to get coins and new Skulls at a good pace regardless.
Skul is extremely simple to follow and once you pick it up, you won’t want to put it down (for a couple of reasons). With the right run, you can have an immense time, filled with epic battles and spectacle.
But there are a couple of things that sadly hold Skul back from greatness.What is the bad news?
As Skul seems so dependent on RNG, a lot of runs can be great while many more can just be plain tedious and unbalanced. Numerous times I was dealt a bad hand that ended up becoming an absolute grind. Its not any better when bosses feel like complete damage sponges, taking way too long to deal with even with a super rare skull equipped or being buffed up. This is very apparent with the final boss which just felt like an absolute chore rather than an engaging endgame fight. This spongey nature also becomes part of the general enemy line-up in the late game and again, even with a great Skull, it still feels a little long-winded dealing with them.
Plus there’s no save feature. I don’t understand why there is no save feature, even a checkpoint at the end of each location would have been welcomed. I found this out the hard way when I decided to take a break late in the game and came back seeing I had been brought back to the very start.
On a side note, after finding certain characters in the campaign, you do get given some starting gear, but it was never the best in my experience. Again, it could be a crummy RNG effect for me, but I never managed to get decent starting gear, but rather the same old trash over and over. The number of times I got the Werewolf Skull of the Shield Solider (which are not great unless you level them up) was appalling and I ended up just restarting to try and get something better.
It could’ve been me, but at least a game like Dead Cells gives you an immense amount of choice when starting a run and even Hades allows you to pick weapons and keepsakes. But …
When everything clicked together in Skul, it was an absolute blast. While the RNG and the repetition of bosses and spongey enemies can be tedious, if you got a decent lead, some good gear, and a great skull early on, the rest of the journey can be a lot of fun. More so if you get two great skulls and some decent perks to aid you. Overall
I do highly recommend Skul: The Hero Slayer and can happily recommend it. The things that let is down are the RNG aspects and how it can be totally unfavorable to most runs, the spongey bosses and late-game enemies, and the grind to powering up the late game as well can be tedious. But the creativity, the immense action, locations, art, and sound design, along with the inventive skulls and powers do make up for these flaws. While it does not have the same pacing or flow as Dead Cells of Hades, Skul is still immensely enjoyable when it clicks together like a nice clean skeleton. Not going to set the rogue-like genre on fire but still a massively enjoyable game for the most part.
++ Very engaging and fun
+ Looks and sounds great
+ The Skull system is very inventive and can enhance combat
- RNG can mean some tedious, grindy runs
- Needed less damage spongey bosses and enemies
- Some balancing tweaks needed here and there.
A Steam key of Skul: The Hero Slayer was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.