Skelemania – Freeware Game Review

Games like: Metroid, Castlevania

Download Skelemania

TL;DR

Time played: 4 hours

Watch my play through on YouTube!

Skelemania Joy2Key for Xbox 360

There seems to be a rash of games as of late that are tagged with such descriptors as “Metroid-like” or my favorite “Metroidvania”. Unfortunately they fall under a little platform in 2D fashion. Nothing more.

And maybe this is my fault. My idea of what makes a Metroid style game is different than what everyone else’s. My feelings of Metroid always go back to the exploration of something unknown. Taking a chance on a possible path that may or may not lead to my ultimate demise. But once you get your footing and the map starts to make sense, you realize that there are just things and places you can’t go for some reason. Either due to an obstacle in your way or just seems out of reach. Then the item is found. The upgrade that reminds you of that long lost part of the world that you discovered early in your travels. Now you can find out what’s behind the curtain with this upgrade. That’s Metroid to me.

Skelemania allows you to connect to your GameJolt account for achievements.

Skelemania allows you to connect to your GameJolt account for achievements.

So I was skeptical when I first launched Skelemania. Presented as a “Metroidvania” style game, I was ready for a fun ride that would come up short in the most primary of gameplay mechanics and level design. I was happily surprised. Developed by Benal, Skelemania is a 2D platformer that embodies all of the exploration, discovery, and some pretty sweet moves to boot that you’d expect out of this type of game. Puzzling conversations with frogs, computer terminals telling of a dead man’s last words, and a whole bunch of trophies that don’t seem to make any sense, Skelemania holds a ton of interesting things that grip you right from the beginning.

Falling from a deep hole in the ceiling, a lone skeleton drops with a brisk thud into a foreign world. Where to go from here? To the right is only darkness. The ground seems steady. There’s nothing to do but move forward. Nothing in your inventory, no story to move from, nothing but empty blackness. And so your journey begins.

Enemies blend in with the background providing sneak attacks!

Enemies blend in with the background providing sneak attacks!

Skelemania pays homage to the Commodore 64 platformers of its time. Much like VVVVVV, Skelemania is designed to be simplistic, challenging, with endless possible answers to a single problem. As you move about the world, your map will slowly reveal itself giving you a chance to mark certain locations that may require a different move set to come back to. At its heart, you’re trying to figure out what happened to this now wasteland by collecting facts while avoiding the dangers that have developed over time.

You'll need to collect pieces of a skeleton to unlock a new ability.

You’ll need to collect pieces of a skeleton to unlock a new ability.

As with any game, the first place I go is the options. Not to adjust the video, sound, or subtitles but to check gamepad controls. Unfortunately, there is zero controller support baked into the game itself. Luckily, with the power of the internet behind me, Joy2Key comes to the rescue once again taking a game that should only be played with a controller a possibly. You can download mine which is set for the Xbox 360 controller and, of course, you are welcome to add your own in the comments below. I’ll be happy to add whatever gamepad you use to the list.

This bird was the absolute death of me over and over.

This bird was the absolute death of me over and over.

The controls of Skelemania are pretty profound. There isn’t too much new here, but some of which comes off as a nice nostalgic touch. You start with a simple jump but soon learn that you’re not getting the height that is required. To combat this (and in a fairly genius way), you are introduced to the backflip. By moving forward then back and jumping, you’ll perform a backflip that gives you added height. Come across a small gap that you would think you’d have to crawl through? Pick up Bowl! Pop your skeleton head off and bowl it down the hole. You can still jump but it’s all forward motion so finding a wall or something is the only way to stop. There’s a few sections that require you to marathon the bowl move making the right jumps at the right time to get to the end.

Unlocking new abilities allow you to reach new heights.

Unlocking new abilities allow you to reach new heights.

With all of this, you’d think there wouldn’t be a double jump. And there’s not. It’s a triple jump instead. But again, in creating a well rounded gameplay mechanic, the triple jump doesn’t have you simply jump three times in the air on invisible platforms. The triple jump acts more like Super Mario 64’s triple jump. Tapping the button in the correct timing, the third jump height is far higher than any other jump you’ve acquired. If you’ve read anything from me about platforming, the double jump is easily the worst taste I get in my mouth. But this triple jump, although ripped directly from Mario 64 (it even says to jump like Mario when you get the feat), is tolerable in the grand scheme of cheap tricks you find elsewhere in indie games. You will get a thumb cramp. At least, I did.

Bowling for bones.

Bowling for bones.

Much like the C64 brethren, color takes center stage. Being a skeleton, you’re based in white. No hat or coat or anything crazy. Just a simple skeleton. Each area is also designed around a single color gibing the enemies, checkpoints, and helper frogs whatever that color may be. It is also used to check off your map as well. Being able to desect area from area allows the game within a game. One of my favorites of any game is just uncovering the entire map. You will wonder around trying to find a singular path of advancement, but seeing incomplete parts of the map drives me to those locations to find out why I haven’t been there.

Blast off!

Blast off!

Skelemania is filled to the brim with secrets. Tons of secrets. Secrets you didn’t even know were there until it’s too late. So much in fact, that I had to play through the game twice just to uncover certain things and still I haven’t figured out everything. This is one of the “double edged sword” issues with indie games. Unless you get featured on Kotaku or Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the amount of people who will cover your game will be small. Dedicated, but small. With this smallness, it also breeds a ground of a time before the internet. Where gaming was discussed over school cafeteria lunches and on the playground. Rumors flew high and you worked as a team to figure out every inch of a game. I was able to relive these holy days of gaming by taking notes, deciphering cryptic developer comments, and trial and error. This may have not been the intention of developer Benal (even with my playthrough I showcase the majority of the secrets that I uncovered), but it does add a bit more to the mythos of the game. And for that, Skelemania was a fantastic trip.

Levels are set up with checkpoints to respawn back to.

Levels are set up with checkpoints to respawn back to.

The soundtrack is also jammed pack with tips of the hat to classic titles. Hard hitting bass notes, melancholy rhythms, brings voice to the underground world you traverse in. Each world has it’s own theme that plays and does its job of not getting in the way of the core gameplay. Created solely by artist Ayrayen, the soundtrack is free to download and listen to on Skelemania’s GameJolt homepage. There wasn’t any one particular tune that stands out to me now (well maybe Verdan the Tainted), but all of them are well produced and adds to the overall atmosphere of the game. A little strange and eerie. Much like Skelemania is.

Welcome... to the Surface.

Welcome… to the Surface.

If I were to have one complaint, it would be that I want more. I really do. Skelemania satisfied every bit of my gaming mindset. Exploration, discovery, secrets, frogs, solid gameplay mechanics, and fun. I had no problem going back and replaying the game again to reach newer heights. There were parts that became extremely frustrating that had me stuck for 20 or 30 minutes desperately trying to memorize the terrain to make it to the end. Other times it felt like I was a god of platforming and nothing could go wrong. Skelemania is a game that I would absolutely recommend to others looking for that sense they once had as a kid.

Skelemania is the embodiment of what is described as a “Metroid” style game. An entire map to uncover piece by piece, discovering new abilities that require you to backtrack to previous areas to unlock new parts of an insanely large map. This is 2D platforming at the height of its popularity and Skelemania has it. Secrets galore, puzzling statements from skittish frogs, and unraveling the story that brought it all together, Skelemania should be on the top of anyone’s playlist.

Download Skelemania

Watch my play through on YouTube!

Skelemania Joy2Key for Xbox 360

Want to continue the conversation?

So do I! Let me know what your thoughts are and how you would recommend this game or if you have one that you would like me to review!

Follow me on Twitter.

Friend up on my Facebook Fan page.

Or leave a comment below!