Skullmonkeys (PlayStation)

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Written by  :  David Mackenzie (48)
Written on  :  Nov 18, 2003
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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A fun platformer, but not a truly worthy Neverhood sequel

The Good

Skullmonkeys plays very nicely indeed. The gameplay seems to give a nod in the direction of Earthworm Jim, one of Tennapel's previous creations, which is surely no coincidence. Earthworm Jim is still regarded as an extremely passable platform adventure, so this is no bad thing. The central character, Klaymen, who is brought to the world of Idznak by a messenger bird, seems like a distant cousin of Jim, and this is shown through the inventive level of strangeness. Wait too long and Klaymen will grow a hand out of his head and wave at you, or makes the nipple-like circles on his chest dance around.

That said, it's not just Klaymen's character that has a ton of extra features. Powerups that give Klaymen the ability to fart a clone of himself, shoot green bullets (out the top of his hand, of course), and make his hands fly off to attack enemies, are all readily available.

The visuals department, however, is where Skullmonkeys really shines. The clay look and feel benefits the game enormously, although you'll sometimes get the feeling on the later levels especially, that you've seen it all before. The tilesets seem a little bare, a lot of the action is based around jumping from very small invidivual platforms in the air. The overall tone of much of the levels is also nothing like as bright or cheery as the original game, but they still hold up on their own.

The FMV clips, as in the previous game, are excellent. Unlike the previous game, they're isn't as many of them. When there is however, you can be assured you'll get a laugh out of 'em. They have next to nothing to do with the storyline whatsoever, which only adds to the hilarity of seeing Klaymen down a whole can of beans and get them all over his face. The ending cut-scene however leaves something to be desired, although that's the most I'll say about that.

Christian musician Terry Taylor (who also goes under the name of Daniel Amos, I believe) is back on this second outing, too, to bring us some more warped music with his own special sort of vocals scattered over. These work really well with the visual style, and the bonus room song, where Terry reassures us that he's our video pal and that we'll get on just fine, is especially hilarious.

The presentation of the overall package is also very good. The main menu is slick, easy to use, and is once again made entirely out of clay.

The Bad

At times, the gameplay can also be pretty damn tough. An earlier level in the game has a whole screen of bad guys that can shoot huge bullets at Klaymen, requiring a lot of patience and well timed jumps and ducks to get through. This, coupled with the one (or, if you have the necessary powerup, two) hit kill system, could potentially cause a lot of frustration.

Somewhat annoyingly, the game relies on a password system that tends to make use of up to 12 button combinations, rather than saving to a memory card.

The Bottom Line

Back in 1996, Microsoft and Dreamworks Interactive signed a deal that brought a handful of new games to the recently-released Windows 95 platform. One of these was The Neverhood - an all-clay video game that "broke the mold" with its claymation and jazzy music. Later came this sequel - a great, fun platformer, however this type of genre isn't the one that brings the Neverhood universe to life as well as it might. In the transition from slow-paced point and click puzzling to frantic running, jumping and shooting, some of the feel has been lost. If you've played the original, you'll miss Robot Bil, Willie Trombone, and the candy-colored worlds and puzzles. Either way, Skullmonkeys is still worth picking up, but it's not what a Neverhood sequel could have been.

OVERALL: 7/10 ( - NTSC-U/C version reviewed