Archives by Day

February 2023

Skeleton Crew

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Modern Wolf
Developer: Cinder Cone
Release Date: June 16, 2022


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PC Review - 'Skeleton Crew'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 21, 2022 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Skeleton Crew is a gothic multiplayer brawler mixing humorous dungeon-crawling and platforming.

Most video game concepts are cool. Even if they're worn out by now, you can read about a title and the gameplay mechanics, and most of them sound appealing enough that you want to at least give them a shot. Executing said concept is another matter, and while some games do that very well, others fall apart when it comes to delivering on a cool idea. Skeleton Crew falls into the latter category, as there are some neat concepts that aren't mechanically sound.

Long ago, in the land of Karpathia, demons had overrun the landscape. The humans who lived had fought to keep them at bay, but it took the efforts of a group known as the Yeoman Eldritch Extermination Team to finally extinguish the forces of evil. The peace lasted for a while, enough that most of the members of the group had either retired or passed away. When the evil does return, the two remaining members of the group went forth to stop the evil forces and recruit new members to help the cause.

For the most part, the game plays out like a typical side-scrolling adventure. Your character can essentially run and jump and pull off horizontal attacks with a weapon of choice. Upward and downward thrusting attacks are available as well as a defensive move, whether that's a shield or freezing enemies. Items like healing potions or icicle scrolls can be picked up and used or stored for use later. Levels are somewhat sprawling with a good number of secret passages to uncover, and there are also a number of side-quests, some of which are subtle unless you're pretty observant.

There are two big elements that make Skeleton Crew feel distinct among the other side-scrolling adventure games. The first is the cast of heroes at your disposal. You start with a wizened old knight and a frost sorceress, but the group gets more varied over time. Other members join the crew, including fishmen, skeletons, vampires, and a rogue with a whip to pull objects toward them. Some team members can light up pitch-black areas, and some can pass through tiny passages by turning themselves into mist. You'll get a total of 12 different heroes to choose from, and while you can change them directly from your hideout, you can also find wardrobes in the field to switch out when necessary.

The presence of 12 different characters feeds into the game's co-op multiplayer. Online multiplayer is present, and while the lack of lag is quite good, you'll need to plan ahead if you want a game since there's no one out there setting up random lobbies. Local play is where you'll play the most with support for up to four players, and it really feels like the game was designed with this in mind; the levels are expansive enough both horizontally and vertically, especially boss rooms, which are usually quite large. The mode also encourages party diversity, as the many secret passages often take advantage of the powers of a specific character. Having those different characters on hand reduces the backtracking and replaying that's necessary to uncover everything.

The problem is that it takes a while to use the multiplayer and different characters effectively. Four-player play is available immediately, but the tutorial is long enough that others are going to have to wait quite for a while before they can jump in. Even then, you only start with two characters to select from, so you'll see clones of other heroes. It isn't until you reach the sixth level that you finally start to get a new hero to play with. To be fair, the game does dole out new heroes at a steady enough clip from here, so you'll be able to mix and match groups soon enough, but the initial impression through the significant opening moments doesn't help at all.

Interestingly, the idea of focusing the design on multiplayer has a knock-on negative effect on the solo game. Since there's only one person to focus on, the camera zooms in a bit to get your character on-screen. That works out fine for the most part, but boss fights prove especially daunting since the camera places loads of key things off-screen. Those fights were all designed with multiple people scurrying around to reveal the large lair you're fighting in. With no way to manipulate the camera, you're presented with a large disadvantage as early as the first boss fight. Even when you set things to a more casual difficulty level, this one change instantly makes things unnecessarily difficult.

The other element that Skeleton Crew leans on quite heavily is the kick. Most objects in the game can be kicked, whether it's skulls, helmets, or steel balls. Kicking objects has the benefit of activating switches either up close or from afar. Kicking some objects like pumpkins and cabbages toward enemies might stun them as they're temporarily blinded, allowing you to pick them up to sacrifice at an altar for an extra life or use them as a projectile when booting them at other enemies. Shielded enemies can be kicked to knock their defensive tool away from them, and chests need to be kicked to open them. The good news is that most objects don't break when kicked, so as long as you have random stuff being strewn about, you always have a projectile attack at hand (or foot).

The act of kicking should be fun, but that isn't quite realized. Part of that comes from the aforementioned camera issue in solo play, which forces you to kick blindly in the hope that you'll hit the switch you need at the right time. Another issue comes from the fact that the kick requires some real wind-up time. It makes sense if you're charging up the kick, but for a quick punt, the game still has you wait a little over a second before you can execute the move. Some enemies give you leeway as they wait around to be booted, while others use that short waiting period to get the jump on you. That little bit of waiting time makes the act feel slow, especially when you combine it with controls that make aiming feel imprecise.

A few other odd design decisions prevent the game from becoming a chaotic, good time. The ability to upgrade characters is cool, but the need for two different currencies to do so is odd. The need for orbs to do this is already enough, since they aren't that plentiful, so adding in gold to the mix seems arbitrary. Enemies tend to attack from off-screen, especially airborne ones, and a good chunk of enemies tend to spring up where you're standing during segments when you're protecting groups of villagers. That wouldn't be too bad if it weren't for the fact that your healing items only slightly offset the damage. Then there's the fact that the HUD is so small that you'll have a difficult time telling exactly which stored item you've highlighted before using it.

More distressing is the presence of several bugs that sap even more enjoyment out of the title. The collision detection between items and the environment is wonky enough that you'll sometimes find precious items sink into the ground, go into walls, and out the other side. There are moments when the inventory system malfunctions and tells you that you're full, even if it shows you as having ample space available. Perhaps the most frustrating element comes from the knockback that some enemies can deliver, which has been powerful enough to throw you into the sky or deep underground — to the point that no movement can get you back to solid fighting ground. This requires a restart, and with some levels taking upward of 20-30 minutes to complete, running into a bug like this is deflating enough that you'll exit and not want to return for a while.

Thanks to a recent patch, Skeleton Crew now has some adversarial multiplayer modes to play with friends. Deathmatch is pretty self-explanatory, as you're using all of the game's abilities to defeat each other in free-for-all battles or in team play. Don't expect the game to emulate other side-scrolling fighters like Brawlhalla or more combat-related fare like Duck Game, but kicking everything in sight can be fun for a few rounds. Capture the Chicken is pretty much a one-flag version of Capture the Flag but with poultry instead of a piece of cloth on a pole. Compared to Deathmatch, it's fine but nothing more. Finally, there's Sportsball, which is essentially basketball with looser rules.

As a whole, the presentation is fine. The soundtrack is a mix of light guitar rock and tunes that fit more in a medieval setting. It works well enough in giving the game a more serious vibe, despite some inherent silliness. It's good but doesn't stand out as something you'll listen to outside of the game. The lack of voices doesn't hurt the experience much, while the sound effects do their job. Graphically, the game has a Flash animation-style look, with some body parts animating independently of the rest of the body. The characters sport a good amount of detail in their cartoon-like appearance. The backgrounds contrast this with a deeper color scheme that still does a good job of helping to identifying what you can and can't interact with.

If you're on the Steam Deck, then you'll have no problems running the game. By default, the game runs at a solid 60fps at the screen's native 1280x800 resolution. You'll get four hours out of a full charge, which seems to be a good average for most indie titles on the system. If you did want to squeeze more battery life out of the device when running the game, you'll have to do so at the system level; the number of graphical options is very sparse here.

As mentioned earlier, Skeleton Crew is a game with a neat concept that isn't executed well. It's a novel idea to kick things all over the place as both a means of solving puzzles and attacking enemies; it ensures that you can still get out of a pickle even if you select someone you end up disliking. Throw in the multiplayer aspect, and it feels like something you'll want to play when company's over or if you can ensure someone you know is online and willing to play. That said, the actual kicking mechanics are slow, and the various bugs and balance issues mean that there's a good chance you'll need to play through some levels a few times through no fault of your own. Despite being out for this long, Skeleton Crew still needs more polish before you'll want to give it a chance.

Score: 6.0/10

More articles about Skeleton Crew
blog comments powered by Disqus