Skul: The Hero Slayer – First Sip Review

Skul: The Hero Slayer is a 2D action platformer/Metroidvania game. Developed by SouthPAW games and developed by NEOWIZ. However, unlike most First Sip reviews we do here. Skul is not officially out yet. But, we were given a pre-release copy that is far beyond a demo in content. So with this in mind, the review will cover the current state of the game and forgo a number rating for now.

Skul: The Hero Slayer gameplay
Skul is surrounded by friends and family…sort of

Story

Skul: The Hero Slayer is a classic sort of story. Heroes band together in an effort to defeat the “evil” Demon King and his minions. However, in this game, you are the skeleton minion and it’s your job to defeat the evil heroes (?) Skul isn’t the first game to flip the Demon King/Hero dynamic. But it does it well, and the largely visually told opening is quite lovely.

Information you find out a little later on, tells you that the Heroes assault of the Demon Castle was not a once-off event. However, this time it was different, with the Adventurer’s Guild teaming up with the Imperial Army and the legendary Hero. And if that wasn’t bad enough the Hero seems to have access to black quartz that can control demons and monsters. Really not much of a heroic sounding ability but there we go.

The Demons are wiped out and captured, poor little Skul remains. But he is no normal still able to move around skeleton. Skul has the ability to change his powers by swapping his skull out. And thusly Skul embarks on a journey to save the Demon kingdom.

Skul: The Hero Slayer gameplay
No need to lose your head

Graphics

The graphics are in a word, amazing. Skul uses a retro pixel-art style. But it is one of those pixel art styles where the pixels are small enough to implement crazy levels of details. Character designs are fun and varied. Where there are a number of different soldiers and monsters to fight. Skul himself has quite a few variations. His original design is somewhat adorable, his skull is almost as large as his body and he has a fun little heroes cloak. Swapping his head around with others can make him anything from a tabi-clad Ninja to a medieval court jester and even a borderline copyright infringing flaming skull head complete with motorcycle.

Bosses are giant and also look amazing, the Metroidvania genre is notable for having a lot of well designed, highly detailed bosses. And Skul’s visual style is up there with the best of them. Also notable is the smoothness of the animations. From melee attacks to ranged ones, from jumps to dashes and rolls. All the animations are fluid and smooth and the effects are quite lovely.

Skul: The Hero Slayer gameplay
Skul thought about becoming a lumberjack

Sound

There are a number of factors in the game that let you know it’s not ready yet. For instance, a lot of abilities contain the text “not implemented yet”. However, some aspects are less obvious. Chiefly among them, I would place the sound. While the game doesn’t sound bad at all it seems at times like it is using placeholder music. While I cannot definitively place the opening screen music the familiarity I have with it makes me feel like it either appears in something else or is readily available free stock music (and appears in multiple things).

Sound effects are pretty stock as well but there’s no real reason to change them. Very few games have outstanding and unique sound effects really. One noticeable absentee in sound-design though is character dialogue. While it is unlikely the game will be voiced, it would fit well for a classic SNES styled dialogue noise to be implemented.

Skul: The Hero Slayer gameplay
These heroes need to be taken down a peg

Gameplay

As mentioned earlier in the review, Skul is a Metroidvania with a head-swapping power gimmick. What this means is that you’ll be exploring areas in an action-platformer style, defeating enemies with abilities and challenging bosses. You’ll also see a lot of Rogue-Like staples in the game as well, such as randomized level designs. Similarly, random power/item drops. And of course returning back to the start after death, losing items and starting again.

The game is quite tough for less experienced players. And while you can somewhat brute force your way through areas, it is generally better to hang back and take things slowly. Levels are generally filled with enemies, traps and hidden enemies. Rushing in will likely see you overwhelmed and as such is inadvisable. Especially with the chance of invisible entries ambushing you when you get into the right position for them to surround you.

While the game rewards smart gameplay, you can’t discount luck either. The powers of the various skulls differ greatly and may completely change your playstyle. The default Skull is a melee character with a ranged special (throwing his skull) and a teleportation skill (once his head is thrown you can warp his body to it). Other skulls, however, range from a strong but slow melee Berserker style to a ranged archer style. You can carry two skulls at a time which can be swapped in battle (although there is a cooldown on the swap, but they also activate a unique skill too).

Skul: The Hero Slayer gameplay
From little seeds, big problems grow

Overall

While the game is not yet complete, it’s not far from it either. The current game has completely nailed the visuals and basic gameplay feel. The sound is not far off. Story and translation may need a little work (I noticed some text pop up in Korean for a moment before changing to English). And maybe some refinement of the gameplay and balancing of the difficulty (adding difficulty settings?) would help. As well as the final implementation of planned abilities. But the main template is there and already proves just how strong a game Skul will be once it has been completed.

Skul is planned for a Q1 2020 release, so it shouldn’t be all that long before it will be ready for public consumption. You can add it to your Wishlist on Steam now, and it’s well worth keeping an eye on.

In Coffee Terms Muggy

In Coffee Terms

In coffee terms, Skul: The Hero Slayer is a delicious classic blend, with a little twist. And while it’s not done yet, it’s pretty tasty already. When it’s complete it’s going to be a drink that I’ll enjoy coming back to until I finish it.

Skul: The Hero Slayer Links

itch.io: https://southpawgames.itch.io/skul
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1147560/Skul_The_Hero_Slayer/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/skul_game?lang=en

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