A few times a year a special gem comes along that truly shines and reminds me why I love video games. Something special that really catches my attention and holds onto it with a death-grip. The most recent examples of this are Super Meat Boy and Minecraft. As seems to be a recurring trend, I’ve once again found an example of this in a downloadable title with Raskulls.
The King of the Raskulls has learned that a thief is planning to steal the Shiny Stone, and decides he’s going to set up a tournament with the Stone as the prize to lure out the thief. This sets up almost the entire story, and the simplicity of this is even noted by the characters. The first character you play as asks the King what the Shiny Stone is for, and he says “It’s important to the Plot!”, which right away told me that this game wasn’t taking itself too seriously, and that I was going to LOVE it. I was right.
The story is told by animated cutscenes between certain levels or worlds and every single one of them is absolutely fantastic. The jokes all hit wonderfully, and I actually found myself laughing out loud many times. Just when you think you’ve figured out the game’s humor, it seems they’re aware of this and something unexpected happens that makes you lose it all over again. The characters are all wonderfully designed, and considering they’re mostly all skeletons or rats with different costumes on, it’s surprising how much charisma each one of them has.
The gameplay itself is extremely simple. The entire goal is to reach the end of the level, though there are different means to doing this. The path is blocked by colored blocks which disappear when you zap them. As any puzzle gamer will probably instantly figure out, zapping a red block will destroy all the red blocks touching it, etc. The controls continue the theme of refined simplicity; the A button jumps, X or B “zaps” a block, and the Left Trigger activates your frenzy.
Frenzy is a meter that fills up on the lower left of your screen that you can activate when you have enough. Activating it increases your running and zapping speed, and can be the difference between first and last place. It’s collected by picking up small glowing yellow balls that are floating in the level, picking up large jars of them, or running through large yellow areas that are full of it. It seems like a simple concept, but it drastically changes the flow of every level.
The levels themselves are presented in a fairly standard world-map, where you must complete one level to advance to the next one. There are sometimes branching paths so if you’re having trouble with a level or just don’t like that particular type of puzzle, you can go around and still advance to the end, and I found these to be implemented at the best times. The only times I had troubles with a particular puzzle, there was an alternate route available for me to take which offered a more straight-forward level.
The game does a good job of introducing new puzzles and gameplay elements to keep the game fresh without throwing too much at you at once. Some levels will be a race to the finish, while others require you to beat the level using a limited number of zaps or start with a full Frenzy meter and require you to beat it without running out. It’s actually a little surprising how much variety they can get out of the main premise without deviating too far from it.
In addition to a single player campaign and a selection of solo races and cups, there’s a very delightful online and local multiplayer component to the game that is where it truly shines. You choose from a variety of different characters from the story that are unlocked in the single player section and with up to four players online or offline, you choose a cup to play which consists of four levels. From there it’s just a race to the finish just like the single player.
Many times I found myself in the lead by a long distance, only to have an opponent catch up to me at a key moment to overtake me for the finish. One of the reasons for this is that you being in the lead have opened up a clear path for the people behind you, but careful zapping can leave the path behind you closed. A bit of strategy comes into play as to which blocks to break, but while the game isn’t so fast that you don’t have time to stop, you won’t be able to for very long. Many races will end with split seconds between first and last place, and that just makes it all the more fun. While the game is a blast online, I imagine local split-screen would be even more fun and look forward to playing that with friends when I’m able to.
Raskulls is an incredibly fun game, and that’s all there is to it. The story is brilliantly told and is outright hilarious, and the gameplay backs that up in spades. The only problem present is that the game is a little lacking in content. The single player campaign is over all too soon, and the multiplayer consists of only four cups (with four levels each) to choose from. I would love to see some DLC come out with more chapters for the campaign and more puzzles to choose from. This doesn’t hurt the game very much, but is definitely worth mentioning.
This is one I’m going to be coming back to many times ,and will be recommending to all of my friends very strongly. I can’t say enough good things about it, and the bad practically doesn’t exist. If you love a good platforming/puzzle game and want to have a good time, do yourself a favor and pick up Raskulls. I was drawn in by the art style, stayed for the game and fell in love with the humor.
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: Available Now
MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points / $10
Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was was provided to DualShockers Inc. by the developer for purposes of this review.