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Skellboy (Switch) Review

by Neal Ronaghan - January 29, 2020, 9:00 pm PST
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7

Skellboy skews a little too far towards skin and bones to be great despite some meaty moments.

The cute voxel aesthetic of Skellboy carries the experience forward a long way. Just waltzing through the Cubold Kingdom is enjoyable, as is the accompanying story and sound design. Skellboy sadly has enough detractions that hold it back from living up to the promise of the presentation and style, whether it is the overall plodding pace or the frequent slowdown (some of which should be getting fixed in an upcoming update. See the developer's Trello board for details). The charm papers over some flaws, but the result is primarily just okay until a strong third act ends the adventure on a high note.

Skellboy’s story begins with chaos in the Cubold Kingdom and you control the undead Skippy, a heroic skeleton who begins a quest across the land to stop the dreaded wizard Squaruman. The narrative is primarily cute window dressing, as the history of the world is revealed and a cast of amusing characters encounter Skippy on his journey. Early on, everything is straightforward and guided, but the back half does have some more open-ended segments usually involving a bigger focus on exploration.

The game makes use of a fixed camera that is primarily from an isometric perspective. While camera control isn’t something I longed for most of the time, the stationary camera definitely frustrated in a few spots, specifically anything involving platforming or precise character placement. Overall it is just hard to judge exactly where you land from this viewpoint.

Skellboy’s main hook involves switching body parts and weapons to change your hero’s look and abilities. You start off with a plain old sword, but unlock clubs, axes, lances, wands, and variants on all of them throughout the adventure, each with their own unique touches and puzzle-solving uses. The basic skeletal head, torso, and legs just do the bare minimum, but as you progress, you can find new parts that can increase health, protect against poisons, or leave a trail of fire. A lot of the really ridiculous ones are locked behind side quests and secrets, but the entire concept works well in game with a few caveats. A lot of gear randomly drops from enemies, which can often litter the floor with hard-to-decipher variety (sometimes due in part to the camera). It’s also worth noting that while you can’t change your body parts on the fly for a good chunk of the quest, you can do that a little after the halfway mark. Until that point though, experimenting with body parts can be a precarious endeavor since you might be stuck with a bad pair of feet.

For the first few hours, Skellboy is achingly linear, which primarily dragged it down in two ways, both related to slowness. The ambling walking pace of Skippy can make traversal and exploration frustrating and in concert with that, whenever you transition to a new area, the whole game encounters incredible slowdown. For a potentially quick reference for Switch players, it reminded me a lot of the Link’s Awakening remake’s similar problems transitioning between areas but in Skellboy, gameplay suffered more for me since I ran into far more enemies during these moments.

While the slowdown never goes away, once the game opens up in the back half of the 5-to-10-hour adventure for clearer exploration and better access to body parts is where Skellboy improves dramatically. I almost wish the whole game was made with that eye towards exploration and nonlinearity, as my opinion improved a lot once I gained the ability to fast-travel and switch body parts more easily.

Skellboy has a duality to it that makes it a harder game to quantify. The visuals are adorable and fun, but technical issues muddle gameplay. The back half features more exploration and enjoyable side quests, but the first part is slow-paced and straightforward. If you think the charm of the aesthetic can carry you through the low points, it’s worth reaching the highs, but if not, Skippy might be better left in the ground.

Summary

Pros
  • Cute body part switching hook
  • Excellent voxel visuals and style
  • Exploration is fun when the game opens up
Cons
  • Fixed camera makes platforming hard
  • Frequent slowdown
  • Slow-paced first half

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Genre RPG
Developer
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: Skellboy
Release Jan 30, 2020
RatingEveryone

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