Go, skull racer! Go, skull racer, go!
Not so long ago here at the Game Revolution compound, we had ourselves a little morning visit from Halfbrick (No, we don't know what the name means, either.) and what was supposed to be a nice, relaxed, low-pressure, multiplayer demo session for a forthcoming XBLA puzzle/platformer quickly devolved into an epithet-spitting, eye-gouging, shit-talking four-player furball for dominance and revenge. With skulls. And costumes. Including pirates. Old-school, side-scrolling good times.
[image1]The deceptively, relentlessly candy-colored Raskulls could be described as a blend of Super Mario Bros. and Mr. Driller, with a multiplayer combat-race focus and simple, humorous inter-stage cinematics influenced by Japanese animation. Its colorful, easy-on-the-eyes visual style gives it a breezy, kid-friendly look, but there's more than enough going on to entice more hard-core gamers, too.
The greater Raskulls adventure element ties everything together with a handful of Mario-esque overworlds suitable for single-player gaming, but the serious gaming horsepower lies in the frantically-paced multiplayer stages. There's a lot of straightforward, old-school challenge here: As players zip through the twisting courses—for these are true races, here—they're able to use the B and X buttons to zap, blast and tear their way through varicolored strata of differently-shaped blocks reminiscent of Tetris pieces; eliminate individual blocks or cluster of blocks, and the ones that were situated above them hang in place for a moment before falling down (in the path of, or right on top of, the skull-headed foot-racers around you and slowing them down if you're skilled/lucky... or, oops, right down onto your own bad self if you're not so skilled/lucky).
As if the environmental hazards weren't enough, the players can also actively attack each other. Smack your opponent around a bit as you both free-fall down a shaft, knock him into an obstruction at the last moment to pile some annoying seconds onto his time, and then add insult to injury by snagging the fireball pickup you just screwed him out of... before finally blasting him with it, just to drive the point home. Not sure what the rating on this game will ultimately be—but for smack-talk alone, our sessions here soared into M-rated territory almost immediately.
[image2]For solo players, there will also be ten gameplay types spread throughout three worlds. Different challenges include eluding a relentless robot packing energy beams, swimming through liquid blocks, collecting 'boostie' jars for extra speed, and of course a series of Boss battles.
The crown-wearing King raskull seems to the game's bony poster-boy, but other costume options include a mummy, a ninja, a Robin Hood-esque archer, a duck for some reason, a solider, a knight, a wizard, Little Red Riding Hood—sure, why not—and, of course, a pirate. We're going to have a word with Halfbrick over the troubling lack of a zombie costume; it may have something to do with the difficulty of making a cartoonified skull-head look any more, or possibly less, dead.
Raskulls is slated to ship in early 2010, and will support both online and local split-screen play—check back when we roll the bones with a proper review.