Review by Alecto
Reviewed: 10/21/02 | Updated: 05/06/03
An average platformer about pirates...and bubble gum
With the subtitle Revolt of the Westicans, Sküljagger is another old SNES title that deserves a second look. It’s one of those things that would probably never get made these days (at least not in North America) because it is a strange little game that at times comes at you right out of left field.
For 10 long years the tyrannical Captain Sküljagger and his pirates have ruled the island of the Westicans with an iron fist. That is, until a young Westican named Storm steals the Captain’s sword and mounts a rebellion. The game takes places across five “chapters” where Storm takes Sküljagger’s men on a merry chase around the island before turning around and leading the Westicans in an assault on the pirates. The story unfolds as little sections of text before each stage that lets us know what’s going on. The text is written in a “swashbuckling” style that I found quite entertaining. It’s also a great touch for an action game, because it gives the stages a bit of context so that playing them doesn’t just feel like pointless hack n’ slash.
While not overly challenging, the game does move forward at a good pace made possible by excellent controls. Storm moves quickly (at a run) and has a huge arching jump that makes navigating those platforms a lot of fun. He wields a cool broadsword that attacks in a large downward swipe and is also capable of ducking; a combination that ensures no enemies can take cheap-shots at him. Mid-air attacks are also possible. Until recently I took this for granted in a platformer, but after playing the wretched Wizard of Oz in which you cannot attack while jumping, I thought I’d mention that you can in fact do this in Sküljagger. There are a few quirky things, like the fact that Storm can attack through ceilings and kill enemies on the floor above him, and sometimes even jump right through the ceilings. But thankfully, the opposite never happens and Storm can’t actually fall through anything.
Storm can only take one hit before dying, which is rather harsh. However you can give him more protection by collecting red and green gems which absorb hits. These gems can be found inside crates and barrels or will occasionally appear after defeating enemies, and are plentiful enough that you aren’t at least constantly worrying about receiving that one lethal hit. Unfortunately if you restart a level after dying, all your gems will be gone, at which time you are extremely vulnerable and can easily succumb to the same thoughtlessly-placed enemy over and over again. This was certainly a frustration.
Besides his sword, Storm’s other attack involves bubble gum. This is one of several offbeat points of departure that make Sküljagger decidedly weird. Different fruit flavors can be found and picked up like any other item, then used for a variety of effects and attacks. Some, like orange, can be spit out in small chunks and used as projectile weapons. Cherry creates a bubble that lifts Storm off the ground. The grape envelops Storm in a giant bouncing ball that destroys enemies and can be used to reach high areas. Using the watermelon (I think it’s watermelon) results in a spazzy zig-zag attack.
Another weird thing is that there are secret portals scattered through the game that transport Storm to a kind of alternate fantasy universe with monstrous axe-wielding lizards. The levels aren’t very long and I have yet to figure out a point to them, other than being a strange little diversion from “real life.”
Stages include the hull of a ship, the streets of a town, the docks, the jungle, and a lighthouse. Unfortunately the “indoor” stages all use pretty the same background texture which makes for a definite lack of variety in level designs. Occasionally you will get to do something special like fire a canon at passing ships, but overall the levels are pretty bland and contain different variations on “run to the other side of the screen, jump onto some platforms, run some more, perhaps climb a ladder or two, then fight a boss.”
Another lack of variety is in the enemies: not only are there not very many of them, but they have predictable attack patterns. The main enemies that Storm will encounter are Sküljagger’s ball-and-chain-wielding pirate thugs and mysterious black ninjas (one wonders what they’re doing hanging out with pirates) who attack with the same spinning kick move every time. There is a small assortment of other animal enemies including giant rats, bees, flying ants and dive-bombing birds. There is a boss at the end of each chapter, and these provide a reasonable challenge that makes up for the lacklustre effort of the enemies.
A quick note about saving the game: Sküljagger does use a password system but it is one of the less annoying ones I have had to use. Instead of rows of individual letters, each passcode is a four word phrase and restoring the game simply means selecting the four words from a larger list. Nice and easy.
The audio in Sküljagger was a pleasant surprise. Right from the title screen I was struck the impressive sound quality, especially of the percussion instruments. Not only were the drums convincing and powerful, but were used expertly to create memorable beats which acted as the foundation of a pretty decent rock-based soundtrack.
The sound effects were less impressive and, again, the game suffered from lack of variety here. There were the standard thuds and crashes, but nothing special.
Visually speaking, Sküljagger is middle of the road for what the Super Nintendo is capable of. The character sprites and level backgrounds aren’t bad in terms of detail and color, though they come off as a bit inelegant at times. Any close-ups (the kind where the screen zooms in on something) look very pixelated…not as good a job was done here. Overall however, I found no huge faults with the graphics.
I picked up Sküljagger for $4.99 in a used video game store and I’m pretty happy with the deal. It’s more of a novelty than something I could seriously get into, but there aren’t many games about pirates out there, and certainly none that also have bubble gum in them! A platformer of average difficulty, length and enjoyment for people who are drawn to the slightly absurd.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
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