Little people with skull heads. Who would have thought that could be cute?
The second title in the Games for Holidays promotion on Xbox Live Arcade, Raskulls by developers Halfbrick offers an experience that can only be linked to the other two games, A World of Keflings and ilo milo, in two ways. Cuteness and co-op. Otherwise, Raskulls is a whole different kettle of fish.
Each of the other two games can be comfortably slotted into a specific genre and treat the player to a more relaxed pace of gaming, suitable perhaps for those lazy afternoons where far too much chocolate has been eaten. In contrast, Raskulls demands that you get your lazy a$$ up and get to the finish line before your competition.
This is a game that is never really sure what it wants to be. A racing game, a Mr. Driller clone, platforming fun and puzzling pleasure. It is all in here, wrapped in some seriously cute graphics with a healthy does of frantic gameplay. This mishmash of different genres could so easily go wrong and result in a game that simply doesn’t work. But Raskulls manages to avoid this and provide what is a damn good game.
The story revolves around a group of Rat pirates that are trying to steal the shiny stone that belongs to the Raskull Kingdom in order to power their ship. The first part of the story will see the King, in his infinite wisdom, decide to offer the stone as the main prize in a tournament, in an attempt to expose these thieving Rats. I won’t spoil the story but it is safe to say that things don’t really go to plan. With a huge cast of cute Raskull creatures, the main story of the mega-quest mode is filled with humorous cut-scenes and comical interludes that will produce a chuckle from all but the most serious of gamers. And if you really are that serious, this is likely not the game for you.
Working through the 60 levels of the mega-quest, the player will mostly be asked to win races against up to three other characters in a Mr. Driller style race to the finish line. Each race level is made up of blocks of various colours that the player, and their opponents, must zap with their wands. Doing so will result in all of the same coloured blocks that are attached disappearing, allowing blocks to fall from above. This brings the risk of being crushed and slowed down. The races are most often a combination of both horizontal and vertical racing and will have the player leaping to platforms whilst avoiding the falling blocks.
Adding something to the mix, there are also power-ups to be collected that can give the player the edge, and frenzy metres that, once filled, will provide the player with a temporary boost in speed and zapping power.
But these race levels are not the be all and end all of the game. Adding some variety, the player will come across puzzle style levels that must be completed within a certain number of zaps, levels where the small mushroom houses must not be allowed to fall and break, and even strange sculpting levels where the player is required to produce a shape from the blocks. There are also the immensely difficult challenge levels that mostly see the player having to reach the finish, or complete a number of laps, within a time limit. These levels are optional and offer a much higher level of difficulty.
Working across a map, the player moves from one level to the next, with the optional challenge levels branching off from the main paths, gathering coins for completing levels. Certain parts of the map will be closed off until the player collects enough coins and will see them moving from one map to the next trying to find these coins.
Multiplayer is available, both local and online, and will see players taking part in either individual races or series of races. Whilst the multiplayer mode is fun, the limitations of game type and the very fact that most games will be reduced to a mad free-for-all rather than containing any kind of strategy, does limit the appeal.
Which is kind of the problem throughout the game. The puzzle levels take some thinking and planning, but the race levels really are just a crazy, mad rush to the finish line. The power-ups become almost pointless in that any advantage that they may give is lost in the split second it takes to plan their use. This leads to a lot of doing the exact same thing through the levels, making the game slightly repetitive.
But that aside, the game is otherwise a huge amount of fun, largely due to the humour. The game is both cute and light-hearted, not taking itself too seriously, which is always a positive. Whether played for five minutes or an hour, the player will come away feeling cheerful and, in my mind, you can never have too much of this. Raskulls is bright, colourful and pleasing to look at.
The mixture of different genres may have worked, but the lack of variety in gameplay lets the game down. The Raskulls themselves are a memorable bunch of characters that I hope to see in future games. It may not be perfect, but for killing some time on these long winter nights, you could do much worse.