Genre: Puzzle/Cards Developer: Publisher: Classification: G Release Date: 29th Dec 2010 Platforms:
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After a significantly torturous wait (for those of us who got a chance to play this little gem at the Mana Bar before release), HalfBrick’s Raskulls is finally here. Combining a racing game, puzzler and platformer, this cute little kids game shouldn’t be overlooked by any gamers out there – the multiplayer is to die for.
Before jumping ahead too far, HalfBrick are the indie mob responsible for HalfBrick Echoes, as well as everyone’s favourite time and brain cell killer: Fruit Ninja. Their latest outing is an outstanding and original entry into the XBLA catalogue, and their first XBLA exclusive.
In it, players control one of a handful of cute bobble-headed skull things and race around 2D platform environment with a twist: the track is littered with Tetris-esque shapes which must be destroyed to get through. This premise is blended with assorted challenges throughout the brief single-player ‘Mega-Quest’, such as punching out blocks to create certain shapes, punching your way through mazes to a specific block without letting anything bump it (harder than it sounds) and a host of others.
The four-player split-screen action is where the beauty of this game lies. The basic racing formula mentioned above is the crux of the gameplay, and lends itself perfectly to a multiplayer mashup. Whoever leads the race is busy knocking the blocks out of the way, acting as a sort of natural ‘catch-up’ effect. This is combined with some very clever level design, and the typical hazards such as water and lava to create a frenetic haze of power-up fuelled mayhem.
Each Raskull has a physical presence, so knocking each other around (as well as just the blocks) adds an adversarial nature to the experience which births trash-talk and controller-throwing. The mix of power-ups included only make the whole thing harsher, borrowing from Mario Kart in making them offensive as hell. Fireballs, blasters and the rest of the usual fare are present, but with four players all vying for success, their impact is huge and they’re often the critical make-or-break factor when you’re hitting the finish line.
There’s a certain kind of angst which multiplayer Raskulls breeds in gamers; it’s that type which makes you want to smash your controller, but in the nicest possible way. Online, the game upholds this with the 4 player parties all sticking with each other far longer than can be seen in other games.
It really is hard to find a comparable moment in gaming to that instant in Raskulls where you and the others are running under a finish line which is above you and slightly out of jumping reach, when one oddly placed jump sees you atop an opponent’s head and you’re inadvertently boosted up for a stolen victory.
It’s a oddly original multiplayer experience which produces devastation and guile in equal measure. That notion of being so incensed that you’re ready to break your TV, but then converting it instantly into fervour to be redeemed has been nailed perfectly. Not many games can claim that.
The single player, on the other hand, doesn’t quite nail the desire to keep pressing on. There are times when the difficulty will discourage players to the extent that they simply cannot go on. Of course, all games should present an adequate challenge for gamers, and if you like, you can look at this as a positive in that hardcore gamers are quite welcome in Raskulls; their skill level will be catered for and exceeded in the many “horrendously difficult” challenges. Perhaps the name should set the expectations then; you definitely get what you pay for.
The single player follows a plot which aims at cute and funny, and kind of half-nails it. Super Meat Boy definitely came closer to hitting the mark, but this delightful entry into a comical world of rats vs skulls is a nice piece of scenery to round out a solid gameplay experience, and it’s still a vast step up from a lot of entries.
The core game should take average players around 3-4 hours to complete, with an extra hour or two for the optional challenges littered throughout. They’re all very well designed, and each has its place within the elevating difficulty, but you should also factor in the possibility of losing an entire hour to being stuck on a certain level. Thankfully none of the hugely vexing tasks are mandatory, so it all balances out in the end.
As the cartoonish tone of the game implies, expect bright colours, playful music (which is actually quite delightful) and a boyish charm to the whole world. It never becomes tiring to absorb, even after countless hours of multiplayer madness, and is captivating and alluring (for children in particular, but it’s not alienatingly lame for adults) to newcomers. The presentation is immaculate: it suits the mood to a tee and doesn’t get old – exactly what you’d want in a game so great for multiplayer.
By and large, whether Raskulls is a must-purchase or not depends on what you expect to get out of it. If you’re buying it for children, do them a favour and don’t hesitate – it’s unique, mentally challenging and doesn’t patronise the player.
If you’re buying it for yourself (presumably an adult capable of basic motor-skills), do so if you’ve got a few mates who’ll play it with you, or if you’re happy to do things the new-fashioned way online. Either experience will give you that maniacal racing experience Raskulls delivers in spades – it just depends on whether you really need your opponents face-to-face to get that passionate hatred riling up or not.
Playing the ‘it’s Australian’ card wouldn’t be entirely fair to Raskulls. Halfbrick have really come up with an amazingly eccentric formula for a game and have polished it to ensure the only quirks you’ll find are by design. More to the point, asking people to jump on board simply because it’s a local game is like asking to you go easy on the slow kid in a game of checkers. So in short, disregard this paragraph.
Raskulls is available now on XBLA for 800 MS Points. Even while musing over the length of the game, the pros and cons of certain elements and debating the validity of such a game for single-player aficionados, I’m simply taking ideas for a walk – it’s all moot because it’s priced in a category where it’s most definitely worth your time and money.
The bottom line is that Raskulls is a devilishly unique, polished game with a flair and charm missing in most. Worthy of a purchase unless your aversion is something fundamental (like not being on Xbox Live). Raskulls is a superbly crafted platformer which should appeal to everyone.