“A bad man fell from the sky” – the first words that echo through tinny television speakers as Skullmonkeys takes the reigns of the original PlayStation console. The introduction presents the game as delightfully strange with a rib-tickling tale. Klaymen, the comical protagonist, finds himself kidnapped and forced to protect the Neverhood. Overrun by the malicious Klogg and his skullmonkey minions, Klaymen jumps and sprints through various environments in order to abolish all evil. Encompassing a combination of unique, comical, and challenging gameplay, Skullmonkeys is an experience worth dipping your toes into.
Developed by The Neverhood, Inc., Skullmonkeys is a sequel to The Neverhood, released in 1996. Designed as a point-and-click adventure game for the PC, The Neverhood introduced our little Claymation character, Klaymen, where he first confronted his everlasting foe, Klogg. Fast forwarding a couple of years brings us to 1998 where the quirky Klaymen steps foot into another chaotic world overrun by the not-so-bright Skullmonkeys.
By clunking his bottom atop their numskull heads (ouch), Klaymen can typically bypass these foes easily. However, Klaymen’s demise is just as easy to encounter. As the irate monkeys run back and forth in a frantic manner, Klaymen becomes vulnerable to their flailing arms. Every attack is a one hit kill which then results in Klaymen’s body dramatically exploding and his life pool becoming a little shallower.
Luckily, Skullmonkeys has checkpoints scattered amongst stages and is jam-packed with power-ups. Most are introduced right away while others are awarded to Klaymen as he advances onto later stages. Due to its quirky theme, Skullmonkeys stands out from your typical platformer experience. From protective halos to deadly birds, the miscellaneous features to assist him are pretty bizarre, but in the best way.
Early in Klaymen’s adventure, a cutscene is executed portraying our strange little dude devouring a can of beans. As a skullmonkey begins to sneak up behind him, Klaymen releases a gassy aurora (from his head), causing instantaneous death to his foe. Thus introduces the “phart heads,” another asset which clones Klaymen and helps defeat those meddling monkeys in a smelly fashion.
As Klaymen makes his way through diverse levels, collecting clay balls is a necessity. Gathering a total of one hundred of these bad boys will honor him with a life. The more, the merrier. Wandering the land of peculiarity, secret segments of the level are also available to discover. A distinguished voice announces “seeeecret,” awarding Klaymen with the opportunity to attain some nifty power-ups or a handful of clay balls. Thus exploring high and low in every nook and cranny is significantly rewarding.
Swirley Q’s additionally enrich some of that peculiar magic to Skullmonkeys. If Klaymen gathers three Swirley Q’s, he can choose to partake in a bonus level. Accompanied by a somewhat creepy acoustic ballad, bonus levels are a gift from the creators of Skullmonkeys. Well, if you’re a fan of free stuff anyway. In early stages, Swirley Q’s aren’t difficult to stumble upon. As Klaymen’s adventure develops into a more difficult one, the magical Q’s require more digging around to uncover.
Unfortunately, Klaymen’s progress cannot be saved on a memory card – old school, I know. Likewise, passcodes are granted after he clears an environment. Before Google existed, I learned the hard way to not be so self-confident. If those codes aren’t scribbled down, all of that hard work may as well be flushed down the toilet. It wouldn’t be a big deal if Skullmonkeys was a walk in the park, but its challenging antics beg to differ.
Though deranged skullmonkeys are the most common enemy, many mutations of their kind block Klaymen’s path to victory. Some are slower but more difficult to bypass while others will fling objects without much warning at all. Therefore, carefully examining the environment makes his journey a little less of a headache. Sprinting headfirst into action might seem like a bright idea, but it’s not. Nevertheless, boss battles create havoc for our little Claymation dude.
Following Skullmonkeys’ bizarre series of events, Klaymen actually confronts a foe named Joe Head Joe. By name it doesn’t sound unusual, but its reality is a little more disturbing. This enormous Skullmonkey bears a human head as his torso and abdomen. Though slow in combat, Joe Head Joe spews what appear to be fireballs or eyeballs and chucks them at Klaymen. Weird? Absolutely, but it’s this comical eccentricity that molds Skullmonkeys into a one-of-a-kind experience.
Whether Klaymen is warding off enemies with his uncanny power-ups or timing his jumps just right across fatal flames, there is never a dull moment. Sure, the frustration that ensues following an accidental death is bound to transpire dozens of times, but Skullmonkeys’ humor soothes the pain (kind of). Nonetheless, Skullmonkeys is a world worth exploring. Who knew a humanoid clay man could endure such an exquisitely crude journey?