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Developer Dreamworks Interactive Options
Distributer Electronic Arts 1 Player
Game Type Platform Password Save
Review Date March 1998 Standard Joypad
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Setting the Scene
Just when we thought that Gex 2, Croc and Crash Bandicoot 2 were the only types of Platform game worthy of inserting into our beloved consoles, up pops this little beauty to take us back in time to the days when gameplay was all-important and plasticine was freely used in Art College.

Skullmonkeys is indeed a highly artistic Platform game and packed with humorous innuendoes. I suppose if you wanted to categorize this title you could say that it is a next-generation Rayman moulded from clay.

The player assumes the role of Klaymen, the hit clay hero of the critically acclaimed PC adventure game, The Neverhood. He must prevent his nemesis Klogg from destroying his home planet.

Skullmonkeys features over 100 levels set over 20 unique worlds taking the player through a series of abundant challenging levels and a wealth of game secrets.

Dreamworks Interactive returns to the roots of platform gaming with Skullmonkeys. This unique clay-animated adventure features an electric array of off-beat stop-frame animated characters and engaging story line created by the makers of the award winning Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood.

The graphics are very tasty indeed. The themed backdrops remain motionless throughout, gently scrolling by. However, the same cannot be said about the foreground which is alive with movement, vibrant color, stunning effects and super smooth animated characters.

The player controls Klaymen whose movement is about as flexible as you could imagine his clay structure would allow him to be. He is pinky flesh colored, wears a super-hero outfit and his features look as if they have been stuck on as an afterthought - two dots of plasticine for eyes, oversize ruby red lips, a rigid tuft of hair springing from the top of his head and when he runs his rubbery legs go twelve to the dozen.

The majority of his enemies are wild monkeys with skull faces. They patrol back and forth over their territory until they catch a glimpse of your character and then frantically beat their chests before waving their arms menacingly in the air while offering a high pitched squeal. You don't just get ordinary monkeys. Oh no, you come across flying monkeys, snowball firing monkeys, robot monkeys, hover monkeys, while some of them even jump right out of their skin (just like in the movie The Fly).

The platforms you must cross appear in many forms. Some remain solid, others collapse on contact. Many hover around up above allowing you to climb to great heights while some float over the water and may be boarded to take a ride. There are even huge concrete platforms with chains riveted to them which can be swung and then climbed upon. The usual Platform collectibles appear as brightly colored balls of clay while power ups are illuminated in a shroud of colored mist.

The explosions and fire effects have been extremely well handled and look quite realistic. On one occasion you must cross a line of flame burners which give off a small puff of smoke just to give warning before an almighty blaze of fire roars out from the grates almost singing your eyebrows in the process.

Unfortunately there wasn't time to play through the entire 100 levels but of the twenty plus I got through I noticed a variety of themed environments such as snow settings, sewers, gardens and industrial, each molded entirely out of clay. Remarkable!

Sounds and Effects
A few weeks ago I was contacted by someone connected with the games industry who asked my opinions on video game music and if I thought that it could sell on it's own merits. My answer was that the music in most video games is only part of a complete experience which, if separated from the package, would probably not be of any commercial value. However, I do believe that if the music is of a high enough quality then it would undoubtedly sell on it's own merits. This has been proven in the movie industry.

The music in Skullmonkeys is a good example of this point. Terry S. Taylor's selection of of tunes are so catchy that it will take you days to get them out of your head. The funky retro soundtrack reminded me of the style of music that Kid Creole and the Coconuts found fame with in the eighties. Excellent.

The sound effects further add to the atmosphere of the game, although the incessant screaming of the monkeys can lead to a severe headache.

The gameplay in Skullmonkeys follows the usual platform style - jump, shoot, jump, collect, jump, fall, die. The controls are simple enough to get to grips with. The run, shoot and jump actions are allocated to the face buttons on the pad. The shoulder buttons are only used when you gain each of the special powers.

Now these special powers are something else and I doubt whether you will have come across anything so weird. During the first level a Phoenix Hand may be collected which is a sort of a homing bird that attacks the enemy and explodes on contact. Soon you will gather the wonderful Phart Head. Get this, when activated your character bends over and lets off a fart discharging a cloud of green gas. This gathers around his body and forms into a ghostly figure which you now have full control over. Leaving the main character behind your apparition continues the game until either the effect wears off and he returns to his normal form at the reached point or he dies and you return to the transformation point. This allows you to investigate a treacherous area ahead without loss of life. Other powers are the Super Willie and Universe Enema where your character expands his frame into the shape of Mr Universe then explodes killing everything on the screen at the time of detonation. A great help when the going gets tough.

The object of the game is survival and to help you out extra lives are gained by collecting 100 balls of clay or picking up a suggestively strange looking glowing icon. Bullets are gathered to shoot down the enemy, glowing halos offer an extra part-life and Ma Birds must be jumped on to save your progress. Why are they called Ma Birds? Simple, they scream "Ma" when you jump on them of course.

Collect all of the blue spiral icons and a special bonus world is awarded at the end of the level. Should you gather three '1970' icons and your character is transported back to the year 1970 (let's hope that the enemies don't appear as the Osmonds).

Other interesting power-ups include a Hamster Shield where four or five hamsters protect your life by spinning around your body killing anything that comes into contact with them. By collecting a Glidy Bird Klaymen can sprout wings and hover over larger jumps.

After completing a few areas you must defeat a Boss Character who again is both weird and wonderful. It's a giant real-life head that belches fireballs and spews eyeballs out of his sockets. This has to be seen to be believed.

Value for Money
There are one or two occasions where you get that feeling of déjà vu, particularly if you have played Rayman before, but overall Skullmonkeys is an entertaining and refreshing game that throws up several new ideas.

GRAPHICS: 16/20 If you enjoy your platform games in the older side scrolling style then check this out. It is highly addictive and raises more than a few smiles. The only down side is that as the game wears on the difficulty moves up a few more notches until it becomes excruciatingly hard. Against this you will always find a way to get by and with unlimited continues you do not have to restart all the way back at the beginning.
SOUND: 8/10
VALUE: 16/20

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