Charming is a word often overused to describe today’s more colorful and quirky titles. While I hate to follow trends I can’t think of a more appropriate adjective to describe Half-Brick’s latest title Raskulls. This puzzling platformer is the latest in the winter selection of XBLA titles that will define the service’s year-end. The premise of the game is simple; so simple in fact that it borders on shallow at times, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had here. With more depth and variety in the events this title could have been the next big thing; instead we are left with a moderately entertaining puzzler with clever dialogue and limited appeal.
If you can fathom it, the game actually has a story, and it turns out to be the highlight of the game. You start off as a knight that is set to protect the shiny stone from a band of baddies. The stone is stolen and broken down into three pieces that you will need to retrieve. Unfortunately our initial protagonist gets injured during the intro and becomes the coach for our hero. This dragon suit-wearing Raskull must learn the ways of the force-err platforming and block-blasting in order to retrieve the shiny stone. The best part about the story is the tongue-in-cheek dialogue and references to modern game development. You will find yourself chuckling at the cut scenes, and they quickly become the source for your advancement.
From the get-go you are introduced to all of what Raskulls has to offer. The game is broken down into part platformer and part block-breaker. Your goal is always to make it from one end of the board to the other with minor changes in how you get there. There are races against AI opponents, timed sprints as well as having to use only a certain number of block breaks. At first it seems enough to keep things fresh, but after some time with the game you start to see the shallowness of the gameplay. Races start off entertaining enough, but once you reach the first tournament things get hairy. I retried the final race of the first tournament over and over again because my opponent always seemed to find a way to hit the finish line before me.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like a challenge when it comes to puzzle games, but when you are leading the race the entire time and end up losing because of a cheap attack at the finish line, you tend to get a bit frustrated. The timed matches require you to perfect the line of attack, which results in trial and error. The only redeeming mode for me was the block breaking with a set number of breaks. This mode actually challenges you to find the right path and blocks without the hassle of worrying about time or a cheap AI opponent. Needless to say I felt no incentive to go back and challenge leaderboard times or perfect challenges because of the frustration level.
The single player portion of the game is short enough that the frustration can be overlooked if you can get past the repetition, but where the game shines is multi-player. You can hook up with three friends online or offline for the races. These are a bit more enjoyable when playing against humans as the cheap attacks are few and far between. Races stay close thanks to solid balancing and overall you can spend hours having fun with this mode. The only downside is a lack of variety as there is only one mode available. I do enjoy competing against real people more than the actual game, but some diversity would have gone a long way to extend the game’s replay value.
Raskulls has some potential and fun hidden behind the shallow shell. The multi-player is a blast even if it is only one mode and the dialogue is genuinely funny. Still you will grow tired of the similar objectives for each level and the frustration of cheap losses kills any desire to climb the leaderboards. The mesh of puzzle and platform hasn’t been tested in a while so it is nice to see a game take a stab at the idea. I just wish that it would have culminated into something a bit more enjoyable. Raskulls is certainly not a terrible game, just one that will quickly wear out its welcome.
Review copy provided by publisher.