You might want to make your way through old platformers and apologize to the minions you killed. In Skul: The Hero Slayer, they’re out for revenge. The roles in a typical Indie game have been flipped. You play as Skul, the titular character, who is also a meager skeleton, who would be nothing more than a forgettable enemy in most games. Here, though, Skul has been refashioned into a proper hero replete with magical abilities and enchanted items. And revenge against the usual protagonists feels so good.
It goes without saying, but Skul: The Hero Slayer is a unique experience. The game is a beautifully crafted yet simplistic sort of revenge story. It’s the inverse of most games, and humans (typically the heroes) are now the villains. Be forewarned: you might feel a serious pang of guilt for all the skeletons you dispatched in Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
While the narrative is fairly straightforward, there are enough twists and turns to keep you firmly buckled in. And the cast of characters you meet along the way are quirky and reminiscent of truly atmospheric games like Legend of Zelda. The world of Skul: The Hero Slayer is also filled with references to everything from Overwatch to World of Warcraft to Ghost Rider. The game never takes itself too seriously. It’s always a refreshingly light-hearted romp through each stage as you recruit new friends to aid you in your quest.
I’ll spare any preamble and say: the combat system simply works. You can dash around the screen, interrupt your own attacks, cast abilities, and the whole encounter will feel fluid. The game doesn’t skip a beat even at the highest levels of chaos. Don’t get me wrong, Skul: The Hero Slayer can get crazy. The screen can get downright swamped with enemies, but when you die, it was always your fault. The mechanics allow you to point the blame at yourself. You’re in complete control.
The only thing out of your control is the RNG power-ups—in the form of skull replacements—that are available to you. These are found throughout your run at the end of stages (or from NPCs at your starting castle). SouthPaw Games got incredibly creative with these. They run the gamut from Minotaur to Dark Paladin to even the Grim Reaper. The abilities and drawbacks offered by these replacement skulls all feel well thought out and distinctive. There is very little overlap between skulls, and players will quickly determine a list of favourites.
I can foresee that the few complaints surrounding Skul: The Hero Slayer will center around these power-ups. In fairness, there is quite a disparity between the usefulness of some of these upgrades. There were some that were downright useless, and some that were game-breakingly effective. Is this really a flaw though? If all the power-ups were solid, then you’d never find the game difficult. And, of course, the inverse would occur if the power-ups were all useless. This still doesn’t change the fact that a few skulls are just overpowered. I’m looking at you, Grim Reaper.
In true rogue-like fashion, Skul: The Hero Slayer also offers permanent upgrades (called “traits”) from your base that persist through every run. These are bought with dark quartz which you gather primarily from enemy minions and bosses. Within traits, we have the usual suspects: permanent health upgrades, attack upgrades, speed buffs, and the like. The upgrades are a welcome relief from the crushingly hard difficulty of the first couple of runs. They are also that safety net that guarantees even the worst players will become increasingly more powerful and inevitably have a successful run.
Aside from these traits and skull upgrades, the player will also encounter a myriad of items. These act as more or less passive upgrades to the character. For instance, Standard-issue Carleon Armor will decrease incoming damage by 15%, or Thorny Boots will damage enemies if you land on their head Super Mario style. There is a stage that acts as a shop where players can replenish health as well as purchase skull upgrades and these items.
The net result is an absurd amount of customization. As you sink more and more hours into the game, you’ll find what works and what doesn’t. When you get to that level of experience, it’s little more than finding the right items and racing to the finish.
Skul: The Hero Slayer isn’t perfect, but it’s getting dangerously close. The cynics among us could nitpick at the repetitive level design or the supposed imbalance found in the power-ups, but these criticisms would both be severe reaches. In truth, the game is a rare gem that sets a high bar for other Indie titles to aspire to. It’s the perfect blend of innocent and quirky. The combat system is fluid and responsive. Oddly enough, you just feel comfortable playing Skul: The Hero Slayer. It’s the type of game you could sink days into and not even notice. It’s truly effective.