6.0 Overall Score

Written by on March 29, 2011 in

Halfbrick Studios has mashed up many of the hardcore platformer games from the 90’s in their newest retro side-scrolling Xbox Arcade game Raskulls.  This game is inspired by a wide range of cultural icons from my past.  There are elements of games like Namco’s Mr. Driller, Nintendo’s Mario Kart, and even tips of the hat to the cartoon classic series the Smurfs.  Smash all of this together and send up to four players in a frantic race through crazy levels and you have an idea about what to expect.  Players can choose playing against up to 4 AI competitors, side by side couch competitors, or compete against others online over Xbox live.  It is a frenzied race around courses filled with tetris-shaped blocks that must be destroyed and/or avoided to win each challenge.  Along the way players will also use power-ups found in presents around the level to strategically take out their competition in true Mario Kart fashion.  There is also ‘frenzy’ that can be collected throughout the level to fill a frenzy bar.  This allows the player a speed boost to that lasts as long as there is frenzy remaining in the frenzy bar.  The ideas behind this game are very simple and all have been seen before so does this game deserve your money?  Read on to help make up your mind.

There are three main game modes for single player gaming: Mega Quest which boils down to the game’s career mode, Grand Prix which tests the racers over 4 races to determine the ultimate winner, and Quick Race which pits the player against others in one race of their choice.  The Mega Quest is an adventure that spans over 60 levels over 3 chapters.  The player can choose between 4 different difficulty levels:  easy, medium, hard, intense.  The story is fairly entertaining as it presents the evil Pirats (pirate rats).  These scoundrels have crash landed in a new world and are forced to seek out shiny stones to fuel their fallen ship.  They are willing to lie, cheat, or steal to get the precious loot.  Bonesaw is the gritty military skully that first meets the Pirats and, although he is severely beaten, carries word of their plan to the King.  Upon learning of the Pirat scheme, the King dispatches Dragon, a Raskull in a dragon costume, to send word to Knight (yes all of the character names are this descriptive).  The dirty rats beat Knight to a pulp leaving only Dragon to save the land.  And so begins the player’s journey.  The Player takes Dragon through the levels of chapter one to get to a tournament where the grand prize will be the shiny stone.  Along the way Dragon find many challenges ranging from flat out speed races to more strategic levels that rely more on logic than speed, and even the requisite love interest.  All of the characters in the game are fairly stereotypical.  For example the King is a narcissistic bumbling idiot that relies on the heroism of your character to save the day.  Rindinghood skully is the fickle love interest to the male skullies.  Her role will remind older gamers of Smurfette or the early Princess Peach.  Smurf’s houses also make cameo’s in the game.  Other playable/unlockable characters include skullies in duck, pirate, and police officer costumes.  In later chapters you play as other characters all trying to save the precious shiny stones.

As I hinted above there are a variety of level types and player will be able to choose slightly different paths to get to the end of each chapter.  This allows players the chance to cater gameplay a bit to focus on the types of levels the player enjoys the most.  Basic gameplay consists of the player using a wand to zap colored blocks to make their way to the finish line.  The basic colored blocks take one zap to destroy. Zap lower supporting blocks and upper blocks will fall down. The player must be careful of this because if a block falls on you your character is squashed and remains stunned for a second.  Falling blocks will meld to another block of same color they contact on the way down.  Stone skull rocks take about 3 zaps to destroy but if you can get them t fall and hit other skull stones they are all destroyed.  Hidden in these blocks are presents filled with a variety of power-ups and jars of frenzy.  The pure race levels are a flashback to Mario Kart.  Here you are fighting your way through blocks but you are also racing against opponents.  The power-ups range from stunning your opponents for a moment so you can race by them or a whistle to steal the frenzy of others, or super zappers that cut through many blocks like a hot knife through butter.  These power-ups create opportunities for any player to gain the advantage at any time throughout the race.  I had flashbacks of insane Mario Kart races where I spent the entire race in first only to get barraged by every power-up in the game seconds before winning and cross the finish line in fourth place.  The player is never ensured victory which can be a source of extreme frustration or elation.  What is will do is make you want to play “one more time”.  The screw-your-neighbor mentality may have you zappng more competitors then bricks in a hectic race to the finish… the finish line itself is not a straight line but wraps around the finish area to give players the opportunity to strategize the best route for the win.

For those who have difficulty with the speed races there are also levels where strategy is more important than speed.  One strategy level gives you a limited number of wand zaps to make your way through the bricks.  More points are awarded for each unused zap.  Another strategy level   has the player zap blocks to lower mushroom houses (ala Smurfs) down to pedestals without dropping them more than three blocks depth down.  Dropping the house more than three blocks down will smash it to bits.  There is also bomb disposal where the player has to get to and zap bombs without letting blocks or you to drop onto them or they will explode.  Other levels have special challenges that are more difficult to complete.  One such level has the player complete a race without losing frenzy.  This means the player has to strategically pick up frenzy in jars or race through special yellow frenzy zones while streamlining their route to the finish line.

The multiplayer races only let you play the Grand Prix and Quick Race modes of the game which is ok but I found myself wishing that some of the more strategic levels were a part of the multiplayer experience.  I suppose this shows my gaming weakness in pure race gaming but I would really like to challenge others to a race of logic and strategy.  The single player campaign is entertaining but the multiplayer is what makes the game worth the money.  The social fun of racing against friends in a crazy world where absolutely anyone could sneak in for the win is the source of lasting fun.  As stated above, the Grand Prix sets up four races where each player is awarded an increased number of skulls in each race depending on where they place in each race.  At the end of the four races the player with the most skulls.

Something I found out by accident was that three arcade games have packed in some surprise crossover extras into their games.  Raskulls, the adorable ilomilo, and World of Keflings have content that rewards players for owning all of their games.  In Raskulls, for example, you get playable characters from ilomilo and World of Keflings.  This helps add value to the game.  There is also a new DLC pack available for the game that adds 4 new characters (Kitten, Viking, Spaceman, and Barney the Pirat) and a new Grand Prix circuit (the Shiny Stone Cup).  This is a very affordable 160 Microsoft points for those that crave variety.

If you are a hardcore platformer, you will enjoy the competitive nature.  There are leaderboards and plenty of crazy races to prove your supremacy.  The game even has a “taunt” button for your character to tease your opponents.  For the casual gamer there is a definite cuteness factor in the story.  The beautiful thing is that the power ups gives everyone a better opportunity to play with the big boys.  I have to admit that I am platformer-challenged but the power-ups used at the right time can be great equalizers.  This game is not innovative, instead it chooses to celebrate iconic classics.  At $10 (800 Microsoft Points) this game has a very simple premise and virtually infinite replay-ability with the multiplayer racing.  I would say this game is a worthy addition to your game library.

A copy of Raskulls was provided to The Married Gamers for review and evaluation.


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Author: Melisa Snyder View all posts by

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