Game Review: ‘Raskulls’ for XBLA

Raskulls has been one of those XBLA titles coming in just under the radar since its initial reaction at GDC 2010. With only an image of the game’s iconic King who is also featured prominently on the game’s artwork and the simple minded Dragon, Raskulls has made its way to consoles with an underground following, having been mostly promoted through trade shows such as E3 or PAX. It wasn’t until December when it was announced as a part of the cross promotional Games for the Holidays from XBox Live Arcade alongside ilomilo and World of Keflings that people found out that Halfbrick meant business when they were coming up with Raskulls.

Gameplay:

At first glance, Raskulls looks like a simple side-scrolling racing game. Even in the first seconds of the game, players will quickly realize this is far from the case. Similar to a game like DigDug, players are able to blast out bricks next to them to carve a path across maps. Unlike DigDug, Raskulls is an incredibly fast paced game where up to four players at a time are smashing through series of bricks while combating each other with special bonus item powers as bricks topple down around them at the same time.

The most basic modes of Raskulls revolve around racing. Players must either face off against single or multiple opponents or in a timed checkpoint race, hoping to earn the fastest time to success. These races can be compared to a platforming version of Mario Kart. A player is never really down and out as obstacles often impede whoever is in first place to give others a fighting chance. All the while, various weapons are deployed to help stun opponents or blow blocks out of the way faster.

Through races, players gain Frenzy, an ability to help them run and blow away blocks faster. Frenzy is earned by landing on Frenzy jars or falling through large yellow glowing areas of Frenzy. This leads to one of the game’s more challenging modes where players must complete a race before running out of Frenzy. From start to finish, the Frenzy must be active as players quickly traverse through a level as their Frenzy is constantly draining. This is where perfection matters as missing just a few containers will lead to failure and a retry on the level. This is without a doubt one of the more difficult modes in Raskulls but luckily doesn’t happen often in the game’s Mega Quest mode except in challenges to unlock new multiplayer skins.

Also included are various brick breaking modes which challenge players to think out their moves. One of these makes players to break bricks the way a sculptor would as they try to break through bricks in a particular order to fall in specific designs of both color and shape. Another mode requires players to carefully lower objects by breaking bricks out from below them with the caveat of only having a limited number of zaps they can use to complete the level.

All of these modes are incredibly fun, with the only exception being the occasional frustration brought on upon by the Frenzy races. The multiplayer is just as addicting as the Mario Kart experience comes back to life with friends screwing each other over at the very last second to pull out a win.

Story and Presentation:

Like many downloadable titles on XBLA, the presentation of Raskulls is simple, quaint and backed by a lot of pop culture and fourth wall breaking referential humor. Unlike most XBLA titles though, Raskulls pulls off all of these to a T.

The game’s story tells of a band of Pirats (no, that’s spelled right. They are pirates that are rats) who crash land on the planet of the Raskulls in search of a world filled with cheese. To repair their ships, they plan to steal the Shiny Stone of the Raskull King. The King begins a plan to lure out the Pirats with the help of the Dragon who seems to have the brain capacity of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Things go awry and, not surprisingly, hilarity ensues throughout the three chapters of the Mega Quest. Players take the role of Dragon, Ninja and King in their effort to defeat the Pirats.

During the Mega Quest, players encounter various other characters like Duck, Viking or even Ridinghood as they try to find the Shiny Stones. These encounters also leave for some awesomely funny exchanges like the King proclaiming that he is the king and his opponent is just a dirty Raskull. There are lots of nods to classic physical comedy along the way as well such as Dragon constantly being the target of notes tied to bricks from King, even when they are far from necessary.

Graphics and Sound:

Screen shots don’t do Raskulls justice. From the looks of them, Raskulls would only be a simple sprite based platformer but the animation is so smooth even at such high speeds.

The character designs and level designs complement each other greatly as they stick to the clearly flawed characters that populate this world. From the Pirats who literally lose their clothing at one point to the ever depressed Mummy who is just looking for a friend, everyone fits smoothly into this world.

Sound in Raskulls feels very old school at times. There are some over the top sound effects that fit into the theme of the game’s comedy alongside classic sounding bleeps and bloops through the races. There is sadly no voice acting in Raskulls. This is one addition that with proper casting the game could have greatly benefitted from to further the Mega Quest mode.

Overall:

If there was ever a prime release date on XBLA, it went to Raskulls (and Dead Rising 2: Case West) with December 29th, the first date of new XBLA releases following Christmas. Luckily, Raskulls does not disappoint. Its simplicity combined with the fun and addictive nature of the gameplay alongside the fantastic all ages humor makes Raskulls a win/win scenario. Because the gameplay doesn’t revolve around a story to keep it fun, multiplayer and grand prix racing modes give players reason to keep coming back in addition to friends list leaderboards throughout the Mega Quest mode. Raskulls is at the very least a must try for any and every player on XBox Live.

XBox Live Arcade

Developer: Halfbrick

Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios

Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00)

Score: 8.0

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