Sometimes, Halloween can be just a bit too scary. There are ghosts and ghouls and undead and…assholes. Living is frightening and, so too, is the thought of death and mortality. That’s exactly why Skul: The Hero Slayer works as a comfy spooky game. It’s not really scary. It just pretends to be.
You play as Skul, a smol skele-soldier whose slight stature doesn’t determine the might of his, um, spirit? Humans have ambushed the Demon Realm where he lives, charging the castle and imprisoning everyone but him.
The meek-looking skeleton can transform into various forms by swapping heads similar to Art in Heart’s GoNNER. And it’s up to you to take down the Imperial Army, rescue the Demon King, and save the Underworld from purification.
Or something like that. The story sounds dramatic with stakes that seem utterly dire. Maybe that’s true for the otherworldly characters in the game, most of whom are either biding their time in cages or waiting around for an ass-whooping but Skul: The Hero Slayer is a bit more lighthearted than that.
The game begins with Skul himself, who, despite his skeletal structure, is also pretty dang adorable. He’s just a little guy, bobbing and bouncing while awaiting controller inputs. Each form he takes on, from a fearsome-looking werewolf to a broadsword-wielding knight, emits cuteness. Really, it’s a testament to the game’s fluid pixel-art animation. It’s exquisite, and the world, filled with opulence in some parts and rot in others, is vibrant.
Skul is a roguelite action-platformer, though, so while captivating and lighthearted, it still requires attentive playing. The action gets pretty intense as you make your way through the five different areas, each with a couple of levels and a mini-boss before reaching that biome’s big bad. Nothing is static, including the environment’s layout and equitable heads. This is perfectly fine since the game provides a surprising amount of variety.
There are 100 heads to pick up throughout Skul: The Hero Slayer, which imbue our smol skeleton with a plethora of abilities.. Some are better than others—like my personal favorite, the werewolf—but all are unique, replete with differentiating skills and gameplay styles. There’s an ogre reminiscent of Overwatch’s Roadhog who lumbers around with a retractable sickle and machete, and a quick-footed jester that throws knives. Even the Dead Cells guy is here, highlighting the sheer amount of ghoulish hell that exists.
Still, Skul: The Hero Slayer gets hard, especially toward the latter levels. In some instances, the game throws multiple mini-bosses at you at once, and of course, every major boss has two stages. These fraught moments, where you must dodge melee attacks and projectiles in tandem, is about as frightening as it gets. Yeah, you’ll likely die and have to start over from the beginning, which is a bummer. But you always come back to that cute little guy Skul.
He’s the reason I can’t put Skul: The Hero Slayer down. As lifeless as he might be, the little guy’s got a fighting spirit willing to stand up against those vile humans. Someone’s got to do it. We are the real evil on Earth, after all.