Ah, New Orleans, how I miss living in a city that just felt like it was propped up with some kind of magic. In The Curse of Skabooki you are thrust into battle of god and evil as old as the bayou itself, and must guide a voodoo doll, Skabooki, to safety by solving block-based puzzles. The puzzles are created to destroy Skabooki, and are all attributed to Baron Samedi, a loa of the dead in the voodoo tradition. In this story-telling he is the crooked mayor of New Orleans with a familiar love of rum, out to get the Oonaki, the Witch Doctor. Skabooki is bound to the daughter of the Witch Doctor and is meant to protect the young girl. By correctly removing sets of blocks and helping Skabooki through the puzzing levels he will find his way home. If it sounds like a lot of backstory for a puzzle game, it is, but all that effort makes for a rewarding game you may as well be playing in St. Louis Cemetery.
Skabooki is darn cute and worthy of the acquaintance of other sack-dolls of greater fame. Since the little pincushion cannot move on its own you must clear blocks so that he can fall and come into contact with blocks that propel him toward the goal. Puzzles are comprised of multi-colored blocks as well as teleporters, directional blocks and slippery ice blocks. Tapping groups of three or more blocks of the same color causes them to vanish, but if you disspell all the blocks and let Skabooki touch the unbreakable blocks at the bottom of the screen you lose a life. As blocks are removed, gravity will take hold and pull down blocks left unsupported. This can be advantageous, clumping otherwise unconected blocks togehter, or if you let blocks fall on Skabooki they’ll crush his little cloth head. The trickier puzzles involve clever manipulation of the blocks and the teleporters (though puzzle 96 stands out as the real stumper).
There is no undo button so if you make a move with previously unforeseen side effects you’re pretty much out of luck. Beginning with three lives, shown in skulls at the bottom of the screen, you can lose all of them and still play, but the score resets (otherwise carrying over between retries). New lives are earned every 10,000 points and for every completed puzzles, with a maximum of nine lives. Clearing blocks collects magic and is tracked in a potion bottle in the lower left. Filling the potion bottle with magic triggers a score multiplier, with a maximum of x9 (and resetting when you lose a life). Time is tracked by a melting candle in the lower right, with time bonuses awarded for every remaining second upon completion of the puzzle as well as an additional 500 point “Lightning Fast” bonus for finishing the stage in half the allotted time. Picking up little candles from locations within the puzzle rewards you with additional time, and yet more points are awarded for clearing all the blocks on a puzzle. There is a lot of positive reinforcement in this game.
When you encounter a level with three teleporters and numerous arrow blocks odds are some are there only to mislead you. Stay focused on the first move you have to make to get Skabooki going as that’s usually the only certain one, and clear a path from there. The game’s difficulty escalates slightly as you advance, but with 100 levels you can hardly expect a noticible difference. Really, they just become a little more comlex in how many teleporting and movement blocks you have in play, requiring a greater understanding of the gameplay and the ability to focus on the solution not the options. Skabooki encourages careful planning before making a move without really punishing trial and error. Sure, you lose a life every failed attempt, but losing all your lives only affects score, not the ability to keep on trying from that stage in the game. Actually, running Skabooki down to one life on every puzzle using each prior attempt to net more points is a strategy in itself.
Puzzles are never mind-numbingly impossible but they are threateningly difficult, and every time I tapped “continue” I did experience a wave of dread. You could blame the voodoo, but really, how can you not fear the next puzzle when there is no ability to progress past one that stumps you? And you need to clear those puzzles just to get at each of twelve chapters in the storybook. Without them at game start the rhyme and reason for the little doll’s misadventures are likely going to elude you.
The game’s biggest downfall, really, is that sense of confusion. In addition to playing catch up on the story, the Cast a Spell feature is listed in the Profile section as well as the Pause menu, but there don’t seem to be any spells. As far as I can tell, this is an un-implemented feature. Also, I go to the Skabooki site for more info, and I see leaderboards with players on level 300 – but I’ve played through level 100 and that seems to be it, game over, all 12 chapters unlocked. Simply, feautres that are not in effect probably shouldn’t be there, it makes me think I’ve screwed something up.
The game is dark, moody and very good-looking from the load screen that says “Enchanting…” to each of the menu screens, and I really love the music. Once you make it through all one hundred puzzles, however, the slick scrolling interface from puzzle to puzzle becomes tedious. Additionally, it would be nice to be able to exit to the menu from the screen between puzzles. Once you complete a puzzle and unlock a new chapter you have to begin the next puzzle just to view a screen that will allow you to exit to the Menu. With so much effort put into the story, it should be easier to get there between levels, not in the middle of them. Topping things off is Facebook integration, and Achievemetns to track within game.
I don’t know if the guys at 3 Pin Media anticipated a review from a former New Orleans gal, but having left the bayou behind I appreciated the handheld trip. The game’s aesthetic is on the French Quarter kitsch side of things, but still captures a bit of that just out of reach feeling that lingers in the corners of old New Orleans. The puzzler concept isn’t a new one, but the music, art and story here build a really enjoyable framework.