I enjoy checking out smaller indie titles from time to time as most of them have been made with a lot of care and love when compared to bigger titles that are made to only generate profit rather than make a fun gameplay experience. Thus it was the case that I ended up checking out Skellboy for the Switch, a fun looking indie title that looked very pretty with it’s unique style and charm and intrigued me with the premise of playing as a skeleton that could swap out body parts. So how did it actually end up? Well I suppose we better answer that question in this review.
The story of Skellboy is actually fairly simple. The world is your standard fantasy land but with everyone being cube-shaped denizens. An evil wizard has raised armies of the dead to take over the land but has also raised the player character, a seemingly random skeleton who’s true identity gets revealed as the game goes on. Seemingly raised with sentience it’s up to you to stop the evil wizard and save the land from the various undead monsters that roam it. If this sounds familiar to you then you will share the same sentiment with me as this all sounds a lot like a blocky version of the Playstation classic MediEvil but it at least differs slightly as the game progresses in order to make it a bit more unique but I never really could shake the feeling that I had done this concept before. Still it was enough of a plot to keep me moving forward and the actual writing is charming and funny enough that I had a few good chuckles when talking to random NPC’s throughout the land.
The presentation is perhaps what I most enjoyed about this game. It reminds me a lot of Octopath Traveller having a pixellated art style in a 3D environment with gorgeous lighting keeping the game a visual delight even when in the darkest of dungeons. I also really enjoyed the cube-like aesthetic as it helped to make characters show a bit more charm in their design while keeping things fairly simple. The music too was pretty nice and the main theme itself has been stuck in my head the past few days so I suppose that’s a good mark for me. I am not a fan however of the simplistic sound effects that come from pretty much everything in the game as while I do enjoy chiptune the effects feel a bit out of place and at time very grating. Overall however it’s certainly a very pretty game to look at and I very much enjoyed the aesthetic choices of the game.
The gameplay itself is most similar to classic Zelda with a macabre twist. You travel from area to area in a pseudo open-world environment completing tasks for various people and ultimately taking down the evil wizard. You move around and have several weapons to engage in combat with such as a standard issue sword, a club and even throwing weapons. You can pick up different weapons in the environment and some have special properties such as having more range but most of them are simply cosmetic changes. Now with the fact that you are an undead skeleton the big gimmick of this game is the fact that you can replace your body parts with that of other objects or even enemies as you travel throughout the game such as replacing your head with that of a zombie’s or replacing your entire torso with a suit of armor. This allows you to make some strange designs for your character and some pieces also have special abilities or stats that help them feel unique. This ability is even used creatively in some places such as one in which you lose all your body parts aside from your head and need to use just your noggin to get your other pieces back. This can make for some creative setpieces and fun gameplay when you find a combination of parts that you really enjoy. The game also has some fun boss fights and they can end up being quite a spectacle to fight and also fairly challenging.
So from all that I have described you would think that I really enjoyed my time with this game, but actually I’d have to say that it wasn’t that fun of an experience for me. There are several things that are holding this game back and despite all the positives I had to say about it these negatives dragged it down a lot. Firstly this is quite possibly the most horribly optimised Switch game I have ever played as despite the simplistic looking graphics the framerate constantly dipped at various points, this was especially bad during outdoor areas. While normally this wouldn’t bother me too much the amount of times this happened and the extent of how bad it got at times (including freezing at various points) really began to irritate me. I also feel as though the main character feels very sluggish as not only was their move speed painstakingly slow (which was also compounded by the framerate issues) but during combat I often felt as though I didn’t have much control over my fighting movements and everything ended up just feeling like a simplistic button masher. While this is certainly similar to the old Zelda games it compounded the slow combat to make it unfun to fight enemies, especially when fighting multiple. The only weapon I could really stand was the club as it was a strong AOE weapon that helped get rid of enemies as fast as possible despite being slow. I also was shocked to note that no matter what I tried I couldn’t find a map for the game which in an experience centred around an connected open world was completely baffling to me and at times made me feel lost and unsure as to where I needed to go next. I also felt as though the main point of the game, swapping around body parts, wasn’t used nearly enough to make gameplay different as most of the time it just felt as though I was only swapping around parts for cosmetic differences or higher health rather than anything else. More pieces that has unique effects or abilities might have helped improve this but when your main gameplay draw is something that ends up disappointing due to not realising it’s full potential then something has gone wrong. Finally while I did enjoy the puzzles and how the levels were interconnected and looped around to each different part I often felt as though each stage was far too long and dragged out longer than I would have hoped for. Often at times rather than adventuring I just was walking along a corridor for a few minutes with nothing really happening which ended up making several parts of the game quite boring to me.
All of this is a massive shame as it’s very clear that a lot of love and care went into this game from the lighthearted story to the funny writing and especially the aesthetics. It’s sad then to see the actual gameplay being such a letdown as it made the game feel like a chore at times to actually get through. The technical issues could be fixed via patches and I certainly hope they do so as it might help to make the pacing of the game feel better but otherwise at the current moment I don’t know if I would recommend playing Skellboy. If you’re a fan of the aesthetics and can get through some tedious and boring gameplay then maybe give it a shot but otherwise right now I’d give it a pass. Let’s hope things get better over time however as this has clearly been a project of passion and love and I’d hate to see all of that talent and care simply go to waste.