Saturday, May 25

Review: Skelly Selest [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to pixel art roguelike arcade action titles you can normally absolutely count me in pretty well automatically. Anything that helps put me back in that classic arcade mindset is usually a thrill to play, bringing me back to simpler days of pumping quarters into some great machines. That said, there can be things that break you out of the experience, little flaws and shortcomings that make some titles tougher to love. That’s the case for me with Skelly Selest, a game that looks great and plays well… but that has some fundamental flaws that don’t kill the experience but make it suffer next to some of its contemporaries.


Starting with the positive, one of the distinguishing features of the game is its somewhat unique blend of beat-em-up and shooter mechanics. At the core there’s what should be a pretty solid experience here, you can slash with your axe and shoot enemies as well, making your combat a bit tactical as you need to figure out what’s better to take out from a distance and when you’re able to maneuver enemies into a cluster to swipe them all at once. You’ll need to alternate your attacks as your ammo is limited and killing enemies with your axe replenishes. Not a bad start.


Next there’s a ton of variety here both within the game and in general. You can attack the game in a few variant modes, even including a sort of card game. You’ll unlock different heads and even characters to play with that will switch up some core mechanics for variety. A variety of different perks and curses will present themselves in-game and between stages as you progress that have a surprising diversity of effects that are all over the spectrum. You’ll encounter new areas and bosses with some regularity that look pretty amazing and amp up the challenge. Truly, there’s a ton here to like.


All of which makes the aggravating nature of its gameplay so frustrating. The biggest problem the game has concerns its most crucial element, the controls. The default setting is to make this a single-stick game, something I absolutely wouldn't recommend. When you're having to engage groups of enemies to thin them out having to turn towards them to attack, then try to get out of the way as some survivors keep coming, doesn't work well. Going into options you can enable twin-stick controls (I prefer aim mode) and that does help thing greatly but there's still a somewhat stilted quality to things at time. In particular, your axe swipe holds you in place for a solid second and most of my deaths tended to be from being left vulnerable by this small break in time. Throw on problems with visual muddiness in some screens where they’re trying to do some lighting tricks and the fact that on the move the icons for power-ups are very hard to differentiate so you’re never quite sure what you’re picking up and it can be a bit maddening on the whole.


This may be one of the more aggravating games I’ve reviewed for the site, where a small number of critical issues have chipped away at an otherwise impressive game. Visually, the game looks great when it isn’t managing to make itself muddy with visual tricks that detract more than they add. The main issue generally ends up being the controls though. Granted, the availability of a twin-stick option, and in how it works, helps a lot. However, there's a lack of fluidity overall that moves the gameplay from being intense to being somewhat stilted with the long axe swipe animation. Then throw on the challenge in understanding what perks or curses you're picking up and their effect and it can be a bit confusing to follow. Skelly Selest has many elements in its corner that help it approach greatness but somehow manages to trip itself up a bit on the way there.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • The core gameplay is pretty sound
  • Visually the art style is distinctive and looks terrific with some great large set pieces and bosses
  • A pretty wide variety of perks and curses in-game, then modes and unlocks at a higher level as well

Cons:
  • Mechanically the movement simply isn't quite as fluid as with some contemporaries with things like the delay on your axe attack and the aim not quite feeling 100%
  • In some areas there are some attempts at light effects that are more trouble than they’re worth and just muddy things up
  • You end up getting perks on the run you can’t identify, making it hard sometimes to know what you’ve gotten yourself into