148apps
Published 09.12.2021 00:00
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Skeletal Avenger review

You know the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?" This advice seems to have been plaguing developer 10tons for a while now. Where they found success in run-based shooters previously through titles like Neon Chrome, Xenoraid, and Time Recoil, their latest attempts at remixing the foundations of these games into new titles have had pretty mixed results. This is no different for Skeletal Avenger, which jumbles together a bunch of tried-and-true roguelite systems with one or two gimmick mecahnics into an end product that doesn't feel like a cohesive whole.

A bone to pick

Skeletal Avenger is a top-down action game where you play as a pissed off skeleton who has been reanimated to get back at those that contributed to their demise. It's one of those premises that is so dumb that it's cool, but what it translates to is wandering through procedurally-generated multi-floor dungeons where you kill mobs of enemies, avoid traps, and find upgrade abilities and loot before facing off with a big bad boss.

Killing bosses grants you bloodstones which are a currency that unlocks harder levels with more powerful bosses that live in other dungeon types. As you dungeon crawl, you have a primary weapon in tow that has two unique attack buttons, a limited dash ability, and the power to remove your head and chuck it at enemies. With these abilities alone, you need to try and stay alive across as many dungeons as possible to rack up your collection of bloodstones.

Reanimate and repeat

As a run-based game with roguelike elements, Skeletal Avenger punishes players who can't stay alive. Death resets your progess on the dungeon you were working your way through and takes away some of your accumulated bloodstones for good measure. On the flipside, if you complete dungeons without losing any life you receive bonus bloodstones for achieving "flawless revenge."

Because of this risk and reward structure, Skeletal Avenger has a somewhat awkward difficulty curve. For the most part, combat is not terribly complicated and enemy AI is easy to exploit, making the possibility for flawless runs almost always feel within reach. That said, if enough enemies stack up or your finger misses a virtual button by a hair, it is easy to find yourself in a situation where you're eating a lot of damage and perhaps dying before you have much time to react.

Grinding to the bone

Because of how easy it can feel to accidentally miss or press the wrong virtual buttons, I found myself enjoying Skeletal Avenger most when playing with a Bluetooth controller. This move fixed many of my issues with difficulty (mostly by making things too easy), but there are other aspects of this game that grow increasingly tiresome as you try to continously collect bloodstones.

As a procedurally-generated game with randomized loot and perks to customize your skeleton, I found the upgrades I came across popped up way too infrequently to feel like I was really building my skeleton into a specific kind of killing machine. Somehow the upgrades are both super random but don't feel varied enough. This also extends to the loot you can discover in dungeons, as well as the dungeons themselves, which are too often constructed out of empty rooms or arbitrary gating mechanisms. When you combine this with the hefty amount of bloodstones required to keep pushing forward into harder content, every new run of Skeletal Avenger gets harder and harder to get excited about.

The bottom line

The core elements of Skeletal Avenger are sound, but the way they are combined doesn't quite satisfy. The combat is tuned in a way where cheesing the braindead AI is the most efficient strategy for progressing, and you can only really accelerate that if you luck into getting the right upgrades, which don't appear in the game nearly often enough for you to be able to bank on. As a result, Skeletal Avenger doesn't really feel like a satisfying action game or deep rpg experience. It's a shallow version of both, strung together by a roguelike grind-a-thon that takes much longer than it should.

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