Developer: Halfbrick Studios / Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Crude Humor, Mild Cartoon Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $9.99
What do you get when you cross the frantic racing action of Mario Kart and the brick-busting puzzles of Mr. Driller with a good dose of slapstick humor? One of the most fast-paced and entertaining puzzle platformers on the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace! The recently released Raskulls by Halfbrick Studios blends multiple play styles into a cohesive package that offers up fun gameplay with competitive multiplayer. Borrowing tested formulas from other games while adding a cute art style and an amusing story, Raskulls effectively blurs the line between genres.
The Raskulls are a race of skull-faced people living their day-to-day lives under the peaceful reign of the King. A malevolent race of marauding mice known as the Pirats is searching for a world made of cheese when they learn of the Shiny Stone located on the Raskulls’ home world. The Shiny Stone is a powerful artifact the Pirats hope to use in their search, but the Raskulls aren’t going to give up their pride and joy without a fight: or at least a tournament to determine who is the most worthy of the prize. Evil in their ways, the Pirats steal the Shiny Stone and it is up to the heroes of the Raskulls to reclaim the lustrous gem. The story pans out in the single-player Mega Quest, featuring 60 stages and three distinct Raskulls to control. A good bit of comedy helps the average story from falling short, as well-timed and genuinely witty moments keep you anticipating each encounter. Banter and bickering between the King Raskull as he tasks the unwilling Dragon Raskulls with reclaiming the Shiny Stone is funny, and the same puns and humor are laced right through the whole game. Though the three hour story flies by it is still engaging enough to keep you motivated to quest for the Shiny Stone.
As stated previously, Raskulls is a blend of both puzzle games and racers. Each stage in the game is essentially a mini-game requiring you to complete a certain objective to win the level. The various stages range from simply racing other Raskulls to the finish line, to completing a set amount of laps around a stage, to more puzzle-oriented levels that have you make a certain block formation to progress forward. Each Raskull comes equipped with a wand he can use to zap different colored blocks out of his path. As colored blocks fall they connect to similarly colored blocks and must be hit with your wand in order to keep going. You can also collect boost jars to enhance your speed and zapping ability, giving you an edge against the clock when you need it most. A small assortment of weapons aid in both racing and combat, like the lightning rod and fireball that tears through blocks and opponents. A surprising amount of variety is spread across the levels, and the gameplay is simple to pick up and play. The racing levels are fast and fun, but I found the puzzle levels to be the more engaging of the two. Some levels limit the amount of wand zaps you can use, making each shot important, while others have you hurrying to deactivate bombs before time runs out. Special challenge levels are available that really put your skills to the test but are completely optional. While there is a wide range of things to do, your tasks can become repetitive, as each level boils down to reaching a goal and destroying blocks in order to get there. Overall Raskulls offers up different play methods so a puzzle fan or racing fan can find something they enjoy.
Featuring both offline and online multiplayer, playing with friends is a highpoint for the game. Each multiplayer game has you completing a series of four races against your opponents, scoring one, two, or three points per ranking in each stage, with the overall winner being announced after all four rounds are complete. Grand prix is available in multiplayer, as well as Frenzy mode, which tasks you with staying in high-speed Frenzy mode by collecting Boostie jars for an entire race. As you complete games online you accrue experience points and titles to display while playing online. These points offer some incentive to play more, but are really nothing more than a way of showing off how much you’ve played Raskulls. There is no penalty for someone dropping out of an online game and I ran in to a few sore losers that simply left the match before final tallies could be counted and experience awarded. I experienced very little lag while playing online, and with a game so quick it’s nice to see it hold up fundamentally. Raskulls’ frenzied action transitions well into multiplayer, creating a truly chaotic and fun experience.
Graphically Raskulls easily stands out as one of the brighter games on XBLA, both in spirit and color. Its distinct art style hits you from the very beginning. The cute 2D design of the skeletal characters fits the humorous story. Facial expressions during cutscenes showcase each Raskull’s mood, like Ninja Raskull’s mischievous glare. Levels and backgrounds feature the same cartoony art style and are wonderfully colored. People will most likely either love the adorable graphical style or despise it for being somewhat childish. Those passing on the game on graphics alone however will be missing a great experience that is only enhanced by a rich presentation.
Raskulls is a fun game that is over all too quickly. The Mega Quest single-player game can get repetitive but offers up some good puzzle platforming action, and the multiplayer options will be a sure hit with your friends. Online gameplay and leaderboards add replayability to the game, but the cutesy art style might sway potential players away. Raskulls is a good game that offers up a variety of interesting game modes and multiplayer pleasures, one brick at a time.