The addictive nature of roguelikes is a testament to the genre’s popularity. However, not every entry in the genre gets it right. Given the abundance of titles available, it’s become easier to notice which of them don’t quite get it right. However, if you’re a fan of the genre and you aren’t playing developer SouthPaw’s Skul: The Hero Slayer, then we gotta change that fast.
Skul: The Hero Slayer begins with the demon world on the brink of destruction. The demon king’s palace has been overrun, and it’s up to a lone skeleton ton soldier to save the kingdom. Interestingly, the more you progress through the story, the more that the narrative is pieced together. You understand the truth behind the invasion and more about this mysterious Hero who pops up. These story scenes are told through a narrative akin to a storybook, which is unlocked after stages.
However, getting to these moments will take some skill as challenging foes stand in your way. During the game, the Skeleton warrior can switch heads to gain the power of others. Furthermore, he saves a host of characters willing to share their powers across runs. It’s not expected that you win your first time playing, though, in expected roguelike fashion, you can expect to play for a few hours before making any meaningful progress.
When beginning a room, you’ll start in the castle and make your way to two entry points. These are colored doors represented by the reward you can acquire from clearing the room. Rewards are items, new heads, or money. Each room ranges difficulty, but they each have their fair share of challenges and gimmicks—magic users, for one, a pesky breed who will attack from a distance.
Maneuvering through levels can be done using a double jump and dash. Still, even with these mechanics and normal attacks, it may not be enough to survive. This is where skills and magic come into play. Different heads offer access to up to two skills. These typically come with a cool down and cause serious damage or raise stats for a brief period. Some abilities can be found which can cause elemental damage or cause various affect damage.
You can only hold two heads at once, which can be swapped, and a few items. There are clearly a few more powerful heads to equip; there are even legendary heads that are overpowered. This only highlights a small issue where some heads you probably will never pick up, if only because they are too weak. However, I did find a great combination with a strong warrior head and a joker where I combined their strength and speed to get through some tough fights. It comes down to how you want to play, but some heads are just so basic that I wish they had at least a super-strong passive that made it a harder choice not to pick them.
It’s possible to have a range of familiars following you or even large demons who are summoned to take down enemies during a run. Stages can get pretty chaotic at times as body parts, and environments flow around. It’s difficult to really see what’s going on during these moments, making it tough to watch out for enemy attacks or tell the dead pile of soldiers apart from an enemy.
Level design is procedurally generated, but you’ll run into the same designs from time to time. This was never a problem for me because I enjoyed how the level themes are connected as if I truly progressed from the forest to the castle and beyond. The level gimmicks can also be used against enemies, which I like to take advantage of. Each level is capped off with a boss battle that will really test your abilities and even have multiple stages as you piss them off. Each boss was unique and threatening and I died promptly my first time against each of them, which meant I returned with a desire for revenge.
Skul: The Hero Slayer is a very challenging game, and some runs ended much quicker than others. However, there’s a fair amount of ways to prepare for the fights ahead. If you die, you’ll lose everything save for these orbs gained from downed enemies that can be used to upgrade your character permanently. You can also get coins used to purchase items and health at a mid-stage resting area.
There’s a lot to enjoy about the experience overall, and I found it tough to stop playing even after dying after a good run. There’s a nice gameloop or rewards for the player to get back out there and try again, but that also rests on the RNG of the skulls acquired early on. The more time you spend with a skull, the better you become with them, but some balance could be addressed to add better passive to the more basic Skulls.
Skul: The Hero Slayer is a great roguelike adventure that ties fast action with a charming narrative. The game understands what makes this genre addicting but doesn’t rely too heavily on influences, which allows it to stand out prominently. If you are hungry for a roguelike, this is a great way to satisfy your cravings.
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