Indie Game of the Week 87: Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island

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If there's yet another pretender to the Banjo & Kazooie crown out there you'd better believe I'm checking it out. It feels like a gaggle of Indie studios are trying their luck at a classic collectathon platformer, and I can only see that number increasing with the tacit encouragement that came from Nintendo's Super Mario Odyssey and its return to the format of chasing shiny gewgaws across all corners of its colorful world. Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island is an evident love letter to the subgenre as a whole, rather than homaging any one singular franchise: the talking animal heroic duo format is of course as old as the hills, but Skylar also factors in Ratchet & Clank style futuristic exploration gadgets and a hint of a whole sci-fi universe outside of the game's setting, the sidekick Plux is both a smartmouth bird (Banjo & Kazooie) and the mouthpiece for the silent heroine (Jak & Daxter) and there are adorable creatures trapped in cages to free (take your pick: Jinjos of Banjo & Kazooie, or Teenies of the Rayman series). Skylar herself is vaguely reminiscent of Krystal the fox of Star Fox Adventures, but her androgynous robot body is the opposite of sexualized, thankfully. The overall affect is similar to that of Shovel Knight - the whole game feels oddly familiar, but without drawing from one source too strongly it instead feels like a contemporary of the era it evokes rather than a throwback.

Skylar & Plux concerns a couple of adventurers on a far-off moon protected by an ancient device called the Siphon, which controls the balance of the moon's natural habitat as well as providing life to the puffball-like Lo'a that live there. Unfortunately, a megalomaniacal computer called "CRT" has decided to imprison its populace and terraform the planet into a massive factory. It's all really an excuse to chase McGuffins around on a planet that's half given over to nature and half to CRT's mechanical machinations. The player runs, jumps, collects crystals which are used as a currency to free the native Lo'a from their cages, and they in turn eventually unlock new health upgrades when enough have been found. The game has a few traversal and puzzle-solving gadgets too: namely, a jetpack that allows for floating and high-jumps; a mystical orb that can create spheres of time dilation that changes the surroundings to what they looked like millennia ago, often opening new pathways in the process, as well as used to slow down time to make enemies easier to fight; and a magnetic gizmo that can manipulate the environment, toss metallic foes around, or carry the protagonist across magnetic streams (similar to that one rune in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild). Each device gets a work out, though none quite as much as I'd like, and there's not much else to the game besides following each of its mostly linear levels to their ends and finding the captured Lo'a along the way.

It's a decent enough looking game, but there's something kind of no-frills about it.
It's a decent enough looking game, but there's something kind of no-frills about it.

The game's far from perfect, as is often the case for small Indie developers working on something as ambitious as a 3D platformer. There's some hitching, some audio bugs, some out-of-boundage, a weird happenstance where the game's name doesn't match the one on its trophy list, and a lamentable moment where the bird sings Miley Cyrus and Limp Bizkit. There's also no getting around the fact that it's considerably shorter than any other 3D platformer that springs to mind - I capped out at around 5 hours running around to 100% the game, and anyone making a straight beeline to the end will take half that long. However, I might argue that a game that doesn't overstay its welcome - that modestly achieves what it set out to do, with the few resources its developers had on hand to ensure what they ended up with was solidly paced and reasonably polished - is everything you'd hope for in an Indie game. It's probably not going to leave any lasting impressions or contend with the bigger fish currently swimming in the same "platforms n' collectibles" ocean, but Skylar & Plux commendably wears its heart and its influences on its sleeve and I can't really say its developers didn't accomplish what they intended.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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