Developer: HalfBrick Studios
by: Jim "txshurricane" McLaughlin
Think back on Castle Crashers, the excellent four-player arcade beat-em-up from 2009. Take its humor and animation style and put it in your left hand. Next, take the downward block-busting gameplay of Mr. Driller. Put that in your right hand. Now slap them together as hard as you can. Ta-da! Raskulls.
Okay, so it’s not really that simple. But if you had to convince someone to play it, that’s probably a good start. Raskulls is a simple to play, frantic side-scroller in which your most ominous opponent is the clock. Colored blocks stacked like the remnants of a Tetris session stand between you and the checkered finish line, and your task is to blast through them with a wand given to you at the beginning of the campaign. Levels vary in objective, but they always involve busting the blocks in a manner that either beats the clock, re-structures the level in some way, or both. For example: one trio of levels asks you to get a set of mushroom containers from where they sit atop the blocks to pedestals below; you must bust the blocks out from under them, but cannot let them drop more than three squares lest they break.
Levels are splayed out in world maps, Super Mario style. Each map has a unique theme and playable character, and features special areas that can only be accessed once you’ve accumulated enough coins; this extends replay beyond just the simple once-through.
The backstory of Raskulls is silly and wouldn’t be worth noting if not for the humor littered throughout. Puns and corny dialogue galore is accented by some real genius bits of comedy. The game as a whole is more fun than original, and safe for the entire family.
A versus mode is the only multiplayer here, unfortunately, but what’s available works like a charm. Not one connectivity issue hampered any online matches, not even when the host had a terrible latency reading. Online options are: matchmaking, hosting, and party match. Once all players are ready, each one picks their character of choice (all characters play the same, the differences are purely cosmetic), then chooses their tournament of choice. The game then randomly stops on one of the tournaments chosen and the match begins.
Raskulls is easy to recommend because it runs flawlessly, it’s good for some laughs, and there’s enough challenge and replay to come back to once in a while. Its only real drawbacks are its lack of multiplayer modes, and its price of 800 MS points ($10 US). While that’s inexpensive in comparison to other Xbox Live Arcade original titles, it’s not exactly a good deal. Raskulls almost gets the honor of a Golden Billy, but just barely misses the mark. Just barely.