We’re pretty close to Halloween, and I have to admit, all of these games have given me a bit of an appetite for playing the bad guys. But what if the bad guys aren’t really the bad guys? What if… now, stay with me… What if the humans really are a bunch of jerks? Especially the so-called heroes, with their fame and glory and fantastic hair? What if the true hero is someone small? With no fame or glory? And definitely no fantastic hair—it’s just a bald swappable skull. Kind of smooth really. Well, players, I’m telling you that little skull is exactly what we need on Day 24 of our Halloween Game reviews. Welcome to Skul: The Hero Slayer.
What Is Skul: The Hero Slayer?
Skul is a 2D action-platformer with rogue-lite features and a unique skill mechanic. It’s easy to point out its similarities with Hollow Knight and Hades, however, Skul has added its own finesse on many of the fight scenes, giving it a fresh touch that is enjoyable to play.
The story focuses on Skul, our short in stature but big in bravery main character. It begins with a young boy who died at the hand of another. We don’t see the death (it’s sad but definitely not gory or anything like that). But then we meet Skul, a skeleton reanimated and asked to join the battle to save the Demon King and push back the human invasion.
The humans appear to have a better marketing campaign. They have convinced the world how evil the demons are. To be fair, the skeletons just want to be left alone. Skul is the last survivor of an attack on the Demon King’s castle, and, in all honesty, he doesn’t really seem like the kind of guy to seek revenge. But there is something really annoying about this “Hero Mob” and Skul is ready to do the right thing.
I reviewed Skul: The Hero Slayer on the Nintendo Switch, and it was a joy to play. The controls were smooth and responsive, the graphics were easy to see on both big screen and handheld. Best of all, the game is suitable for the kids being fast, entertaining, and not overwhelming with battle scenes. It has been a huge hit with all three of our kids taking turns to share the gameplay and learn from each other. It was also fun to see how they reacted to playing as “the bad guy” who wasn’t really a bad guy. #humansarejerks
Choose Your Skull
The first chapter is your initial introduction. The game doesn’t really start until you are in the throne room of the Demon King’s castle, gaining advice from a shapeshifting witch-cat-lady. Take a good look around. You’re going to be seeing a lot of this room. It is your new spawn point.
Skul is a little power dynamo. Your job is simple: defeat the enemy. Each battle scene even has a little mini-map, indicating the enemies as red blocks and your doorway out as green blocks. Skul has a number of basic skills available: jump, double jump, dash, and hit. Combined, these moves make for a fast-paced game with plenty of mayhem. He can also throw his skull as a long-range attack and then teleport wherever his skull ends up. This detachable feature means he can also swap it out when something better comes along.
The developers at the small indie studio, SouthPAW Games, have said Skul can swap out with another skull and create up to 70 new playable characters. After the first hour, I had counted 28. It’s insane and I love it and I want to find them all. The important fact to remember here is Skul can carry two skulls at any time. Like many things in a rogue-lite game, the opportunities are a little randomized, but you do get a strong sense of possibilities. Each skull gives you a variety of special moves and charged powers. Each of these skulls can essentially create a new character both individually and in how you can bring the skills together, swapping between the two skulls. So far, my fave is the Gambler and it is totally overpowered. I have also heard of the Rock Star with its own backup band, but I am yet to see that first-hand. *sad groupie*
The downside to this wonderful array of randomness is that when you die, it’s gone. Each time you die, you will respawn in the throne room. Chat with the cat, power up with your dark quartz crystals, and try out a new armored outfit. Then you throw yourself out the window and start all over again.
Do You Remember the Details?
It’s not a complete loss—there is a skill tree to slowly build on, adding to health, magic, or critical hits. You do not forget everything, and will even have the opportunity to go shopping for a few extra skills and abilities. At the end of each dungeon, you also have the choice between two doorways, offering different rewards if you survive. Treasures to spending shopping, new skulls to swap with, or simply a chance to get the hell out of here. Nope, not that door. That was instadeath again.
Some of those special details are in the adorable graphics. I really love how they haven’t shied away from the standard imagery of skeletons and ogres and knights. Everything is easily identifiable, with added character when you see them in action. I also love how they haven’t fallen into the dark aesthetic, and allowed Skul to express a range of colors and lighting to fit the action. You won’t always be able to stop and appreciate the work, but it is worth taking a screenshot sporadically so you can come back later.
I will be honest and say I have not played this game anywhere near as long as I would like. There is a ferocity to it that can be distracting, disheartening, and yet so enticing. It is unrelenting and similar to Hades, so you need to be okay with dying. In fact, it can feel a little harsh when you die and see the screen emblazoned with your battle time (4 mins 51 secs) and a big graphic picture of how you died. I mean, seriously. That is harsh. But effective.
While it is easy to spot the similarities, this is no shadow. Skul shines with its own unique mechanic and its smooth application. The interchangeable skulls add an extra level of skills to the character, mixed up further by combinations from carrying two at a time. Even when you think it’s going to be a grind doing those early levels again, a new skull gives you a new perspective. Between random dungeons, random foes, and random skulls, this game has plenty of replayability. It’s worth coming back to again and again. Plus, it’s fun watching others play to see what they end up with.
Skul: The Hero Slayer is now available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox. Evil Genius Mum received a free review copy for the purpose of this review; no further compensation was received.
Score: 4 out of 5 swappable skulls