Since I first played Kid Chameleon on Sega Genesis way back in the day, I’ve had a thing for games that let you swap headgear for specific powers. In Skellboy¸ this is taken a little further by allowing you to swap out your torso and feet as well as your head for different abilities. With bright graphics, and a healthy sense of humor, Skellboy isn’t destined to go down as a classic, but it’s a mostly competent action-adventure game that shares some DNA with The Legend of Zelda series.
In Skellboy you play as a skeleton, recently raised from the dead. This is a bit of a problem, as the townsfolk are wary of you, on account of all of the other dead rising and terrorizing them. But luckily, you still have your senses, and instead of going on a mindless rampage, you’ve decided to figure out what’s going on in the kingdom, and help find the missing princess before the evil, dead raising Squarumon is able to win and take over the kingdom.
Skellboy is an action-adventure game that is played from an isometric perspective. It has a strong resemblance to games like the older Legend of Zelda style with top-down action. There is a fair amount of chances to explore, and even some secrets to find. But without any major puzzles, most of Skellboy is about avoiding obstacles, and fighting enemies.
You will fight enemies with various weapons, and weapon types that you find as you adventure. There are five different weapon types, and each type has at least two different versions. There are swords, clubs, wands, lances, and axes. Despite having different weapon types, and a selection of different weapons, the combat feels terrible: often, you just whack away at any given foe until it is dispatched.
This isn’t normally a big deal, but enemy types and encounters are pretty generic, and the combat feels mostly awful. You swing or poke at things until they are dispatched, and that’s about it. Swords swing weakly, and it just doesn’t feel satisfying to fight. In fact, combat is one of the weaker aspects of Skellboy, even with its most unique feature: the ability to swap body parts for various power-ups and effects.
As you’re fighting the forces of Squarumon, you will notice that some enemies will drop body parts as they are dispatched. Often, you can use these body parts to replace your own for various effects. Usually, these body parts are no different than getting new armor in an action role-playing game. Different body parts mean you might be able to take more hits before you are defeated, or sometimes, they bestow power-ups. Sometimes, these items are even cursed and will hinder your playthrough. My favorite thing about Skellboy, is ironically some of the debuffs you can get for equipping some body parts—especially the cursed ones. I also love the enemy type that drops on your head and replaces it, making your movement reversed. Unfortunately, despite the few strokes of genius, Skellboy ends up being a bit bland.
But there is still fun to be had with Skellboy. You can’t really go too wrong with an action adventure game, but Skellboy comes with its share of glitches, too. There were a few times that I had to redo entire sections, not because I was defeated by enemies, but because I was stuck in the terrain with no means of escape. Not only have I gotten stuck a handful of times, I’ve also had to deal with extreme frame drops, and entire backgrounds popping in (or not even loading), especially in the beginning outdoor levels.
Despite getting stuck in terrain a few times, I kept getting stuck on where to progress. Yes, even in a simple action adventure game like Skellboy I was thwarted by the levels. And it’s not because they’re super clever, either. The level design is competent, and shares a bit of checkpoint meets shortcut DNA with Dark Souls. But the real problem I had with the levels was being completely lost and without clues where to go next. At least two occasions I resorted to using the Wiki walkthrough (which seems to be set up by the developers) and the answers pissed me off more than anything. I was standing right in front of the answer on both occasions, but the way “forward” just wasn’t apparent.
Skellboy tries to stick to a whimsical, retro-like art style, but it really falls flat. The art style is a sort of pixel meets Paper Mario-esque mash-up. It’s not exactly 3D, more like sprites put over 3D models. It’s a strange art style, and instead of conveying bright colors, ended up looking muddy and a little unappealing, even on the small screen of the Nintendo Switch, the platform I primarily played on.
Despite my problems with it, Skellboy isn’t a trudge. There is lots of whimsical humor, and I was often cracking a smile as I made my way through the game. But I couldn’t help but feel Skellboy could have done with a little longer in the development—to iron out the visual issues, and perhaps add something to the combat to make it feel satisfying.
Skellboy isn’t all bad, but unless you’re really hankering for an action adventure game on Nintendo Switch, there are better titles. Still, Skellboy has a sense of humor, and enough entertainment to get you through it. But there are frustrating issues, especially with the art choices, and graphical pop-in. Despite the competent level design, I still had issues determining my way forward.
Skellboy will be available on Nintendo Switch on January 30th, and will be coming to Windows and other consoles at a later date.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR