Best skull-themed game (without 50 Cent)
Raskulls, more than any recent game I can think of, takes a simple mechanic that isn't exactly innovative and manipulates it into a full, fun and varying experience. The game, at it's core, is a puzzle game, but varying modes in the single player campaign and a great sense of humor make this a shining example of a great Xbox Live Arcade game.
When you look at Raskulls at the most basic level, you do two things. Move and zap blocks. Blocks group up with other like-colored blocks and when you zap one, all the ones connected are destroyed. At this level you can draw immediate similarities to this and other games like Mr. Driller, but that is where the similarities start to end. This simple mechanic isn't unheard of by developer Halfbrick Studios, the people behind the immensely popular yet simple “ Fruit Ninja” game on iOS, but what makes this game unique are the different scenarios it puts you in with that core mechanic. The most common is a race, try to get from point A to point B before everyone else. This mode is fun, but the A.I. isn't the brightest and you will find yourself winning these races either right away or only after a couple of tries. Where the game really shines are in the other modes available.
Other game modes range from quick and hectic to slow and contemplative. On one hand you have checkpoint races, single player races where one wrong move could cost you the round. But there are also modes like Zap Trials, a mode where you must reach an objective in a certain number of moves, or Skulpting (get it?) Mode where you must break blocks so that they form a certain shape. Even up until the last levels you are getting to experience new ways to play the game. Sometimes upon completion of the level, you will get to replay the level with different objectives.
Aside from being a more than competent puzzle game, Raskulls is backed by some very funny writing. The story is simple, space rat pirates crash land and steal some shiny stones to use as fuel, but the king of the Raskulls (shockingly named King) vows to protect them. Why? Because they are shiny of course. The ways the characters interact with each other in cutscenes are quite funny, whether it be having to put up with a mystical rhyming purple dragon, arguing about the game's mechanics or even the antagonistic relationship between King and his subjects, there are many laugh out loud moments. Not to mention every possible pun on the words skull or bone you can think of. Some may point to similarities between it and fellow XBLA developer Twisted Pixel's games, and that may be true but I would go as far to compare it to some of Tim Schafer's work.
The biggest problem with the game is its lack of length and re-playability. The single player campaign is short, it took me only three days to complete not only the main story, but almost all the side missions, save a few especially challenging ones. It's a little satisfying, though, to be able to beat a game with the recently popular super punishing games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. There is little depth to the multiplayer, as the only mode available to play is the racing mode, and there isn't much of a learning curve involved.
Even with a short campaign and a less than ideal multiplayer, Raskulls is a fun experience worth trying, especially for the low price of 800 Microsoft points ($10). You'd be a numbskull not to pick it up. Hahahahaha...