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Which game will you play the most this month?

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Game Profile
FINAL SCORES
7.5
Visuals
8.5
Audio
8.5
Gameplay
6.0
Features
8.0
Replay
8.0
INFO BOX
PLATFORM:
Xbox Live Arcade
PUBLISHER:
Microsoft
DEVELOPER:
Halfbrick
GENRE: Platform
RELEASE DATE:
December 29, 2010
ESRB RATING:
Everyone
 Written by Kyle Hilliard  on January 18, 2011

Review: Frantic, frenzied, funny and frustrating.



Raskulls can best described as an innovative racing platformer with puzzle elements. It's got some interesting ideas, and I can honestly say that I have never played anything like it. Despite the speed it paces along at though, it never seems to able to escape a consistent level of frustration.

Raskulls, at it's core, is a racing platformer. The majority of the levels task the player with beating the competing racers to the end of the level first. This requires the gathering of boost, the collection and subsequent use of offensive items and the ability to successfully navigate a series of simple falling block puzzles as quickly as possible. It's an impressive amalgamation of ideas, but it just never comes easily to the player. The game isn't necessarily difficult, it's just always frustrating. Success or failure are largely left up to chance, but that isn't to say the game is without strategy. It's sort of like Mario Kart, if you had to stop and play Tetris a few times each lap.

The presentation of Raskulls is probably it's best selling point. It's got a well animated cartoonish characters, who are often legitimately funny, and quite frequently break through the fourth wall to be self-referential. It's the sort of humor that is seen frequently with these smaller downloadable games, but it is absolutely welcome. The music is good too, comparable to the frenzied tunes of something like Super Meat Boy, except a little bit goofier.

I have a love/hate relationship with Raskulls. It does a lot of things really well, and the frustrating racing portions of the game can be skipped from time to time, so you are rarely stuck in the same mode. The racing levels must be completed to progress in the story, but there are also levels that make the game feel more like a puzzle game, requiring the player to complete some sort of task associated with the falling blocks puzzles. It varies itself often, but struggles to be consistently fun throughout.



The reason that the racing will cause the player to grit their teeth is thanks to a number of factors. Walls are always falling in front of you impeding your progress, your character never quite moves fast enough and the action is always being interrupted. The game is most rewarding when the player is at full boost, ripping through falling blocks with few hurdles and staying far ahead of the competing racers. Unfortunately, the game is simply not designed to function like that. The player is always in the thick of the action, getting stopped by other players, or stuck behind a block that cannot be vaulted. The game wants you to be in the middle of everything, but it sucks being there. It's not fun. The worst thing you can do in a racing game is interrupt the movement, and it happens a lot in Raskulls.

There will be players out there will adore the merging of some of their favorite gaming genres, and they will gather in the excellent online arena. There are a number of unlockable characters and ranks to be attained in the Raskulls online world. The games are quick to start, and last just long enough. Races are short, so players play multiple rounds with the same group before being placed elsewhere. It's a good system that works well for the pace of the game, and it allows players to tackle many different modes during one play session.

Bottom Line
Raskulls is a well constructed game. It's very clear what developer Halfbrick wanted to create here, and I believe they were successful. The problems with the game do not stem from programming errors, or unfair difficulty, but rather from the initial concept that Raskulls is built around. The game wants the player to race at full speed, but frequently stalls their progress. Combining racing and puzzling just won't work from some players, but there are many who will immediately appreciate the frantic nature of the game and it's fast paced strategy. Everyone though, without a doubt, even if they aren't a fan of the gameplay, will be a fan of the memorable Raskull characters.


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