Bertie: Oh I'll just give it a quick go... An hour-and-a-half flies by. I am in love.
Skul is a bit like Hades but viewed side-on. It's an action-based Rogue-lite where you get one life to see how far you can get. You're not escaping a mythical underworld, but you are on a team traditionally viewed as the baddies, the demons, and you're fighting the heroes. Specifically, you're a skeleton, but more on that later because it's important. As you fight, you collect power-ups and abilities, and, at intervals, there's a shop where you can spend currency to either heal or buy further power-ups and abilities. See what I mean? Quite Hades-like.
But! And here's where we get back to the skeleton part: because you're a skeleton, you can take your head off and put another one on, and when you do, you become whatever that head was. Was it a sorcerer-like head? Become a sorcerer. Was it a thief's hooded head? Become a thief. Was it a warrior? And so on. And each of those heads represents a different set of abilities and moves.
You can have two of these heads equipped at any one time, and this is a very important thing, because you can swap between heads while you fight. In fact, you're encouraged to do so, because switching triggers special abilities related to the heads you have equipped. It's necessary if you want to do well, and you do, I can tell.
Skul, then, is all about the skulls. And what makes the whole premise sing is how fulfilling and over the top those skulls can be. My favourite has to be a kind stitched-together beast (I can't find its name but it looks like Stitch from Warcraft) that has the ability to grow bigger after every enemy it kills. It can also stampede left and right, and do a giant belly flop dive from the sky. It's enormously satisfying to play as. Or, there's the Rider, a biker clad in leather, wielding chains, whose special involves hopping on a chopper and roaring around the level mowing people down. It's outrageous fun.
Skul is a game that's not afraid to let you feel powerful, that's not afraid to let loose. It's big, pacey, fun, and has the trappings of something special indeed.
Chris: Given our general proximity to skeletons, it's weird that we don't like them more. There's a brilliant Ray Bradbury story about the horror of realising that there's a skeleton inside us, and then think of all those games where skeletons are bashed and smashed and knocked to pieces.
Skul flips things: you're the skeleton rather than the hero who blasts them into dry grit, and this flipping suggests that skeletons are alright. They get up in the morning and put their skulls on just like everybody else. They store vital things in their chest compartment, just like we do. And they rush into battle and whack people with...a bone, which is a bit odd. It would be like us, rushing into battle and whacking people with...a bone...?
What a fascinating game this is. As Bertie points out it's not just a Rogue-lite, it's a Hadeslike, and it's very specific in the things it takes. Sure, there's that long jump into the game at the start of each round, and there's the purple stuff you collect to power yourself up for the next time, but like Hades, Skul gives you a choice of doors as you move between rooms where you have to kill everybody to progress. I'm still decoding what the different doors mean. And the combat - like Hades there's a focus on foreshadowed area attacks, and even better a focus on environmental damage. In the forest you can knock ents into spikes and drop them into pits. You can bounce off mushrooms and deliver uppercuts. All very nice - and very Hades.
It's amazing to me that this works so well in 2D, and that's even before you get to the levelling and the skills and the skull-swapping stuff. Skul is heavily inspired by a modern great, but it's got the making of something very special in its own right. Do check it out.