The resurgence of the 2D platformer in 2010 will have reawakened fond feelings in many a gamer, but also introduced a whole new generation to the delights of genre; one that spent far too long in the doldrums during the rush to harness the power of each successive generation of consoles. Australian studio Halfbrick looks to add to the growing list of platforming titles with their first full Xbox Live Arcade release, Raskulls.
Set across three chapters that comprise of up to sixty different levels, Raskulls is very much set in the classic platforming mould, with a hub world that unlocks subsequent levels through progression in events. Successfully completing each event will earn a medal and if the player collects enough, they’ll open up additional secret events that prove a sterner test than the regular assortment on offer. The story is as basic as it comes and conforms to the usual selection of tropes; evil rat pirate wants to steal a treasured artefact, while the skull king wishes to acquire it for good, enlisting a succession of similarly skull-headed minions to thwart the bad guys.
While conforming to some staples of the genre, Raskulls has its own unique twist on how it presents things, since the main gist of the action takes the form of racing. Clearly using the Mr. Driller series as inspiration, the player has to destroying coloured blocks that make up large portions of the levels, encompassing both the horizontal and vertical space within. Presents scattered throughout contain power-ups that help progress to the chequered flag. There is also a frenzy mode which is enabled by collecting golden glowing orbs called Boosties. These can be found in jars, broken blocks and yellow Boostie Zones dotted throughout.
The events contained within the main quest mode, mostly made up of the aforementioned races, can be a mixed bag. The race to the end swings from either being too easy to just plain annoying, especially when a boss uses henchmen to augment his arsenal of attacks as they wilfully hold back the player. This results in much gnashing of teeth as the inevitability of having to retry over and over again sets in, until the player manages to luck out. This doesn’t do much to foster any kind of excitement, just a resigned feeling of winning via sheer persistence, rather than through any kind of finesse or strategy.
When Raskulls mixes things up, expanding on its core experience, it become more interesting. The side missions, and challenges (which in some cases unlock another tier, or Mega Challenge) are fiendish on times, such as finishing laps of a course before the timer runs out, or trying to complete a level while disarming bombs and making sure none of them suffer any form of impact. These challenges provide a glimpse at just how good the concept can be when expanded on just a little bit more.
A selection of multiplayer modes are present, with Quick Race and Grand Prix being available for up to four players, both over Xbox Live and locally, so friends can be challenged regardless of location. And while this ticks all the boxes in terms of features, they’ll no doubt suffer from the usual Xbox Live Arcade curse of it being a ghost town a couple of weeks after release, since there isn’t a whole lot to draw players back to it once the requisite Achievements have been collected.
Even the quality of the art style can be a mixed bag at times, with some assets appearing distinctly low-resolution in places, but high quality elsewhere, causing a double take. The sense of humour is also far too forced, and lacks any of the subtlety found in Castle Crashers, or the outright belly laughs/disturbing humour of Super Meat Boy. So while it’s amusing, the game is never laugh out loud funny as you’d expect from the playful art style.
Raskulls is what you’d call a solid experience. It takes inspiration from various sources and is fun while it lasts, doing a good job of entertaining the player. Ultimately what lets it down is its propensity to frustrate, meaning it might not live long in the memory once the initial interest passes.