At first glance, Raskulls seems like the type of game your little brother or sister should be playing. It stars colourful, pint-sized characters that would look more at home in an episode of Muppet Babies than a video game. But don't let its adorable exterior fool you - these skull-faced critters pack a lot of attitude, and beneath the cutesy façade is a hardcore puzzle-platformer, and one of the better games on Xbox Live Arcade.
The story in Raskulls is both straightforward and ridiculous, a theme that is carried throughout the title. Having crash-landed their ship on the Raskulls' home planet, Captain J. Turncoat and his gang of evil Pirats (pirates that are also rats) set off in search of a new power source, and learn of two Shiny Stones that can do the trick. Plans to steal the stones are thwarted by the Raskulls, prompting a showdown that spans three chapters and sixty levels.
The tug of war for control of the two stones begins on a Super Mario World-inspired top-down map, where players can move from level to level and chapter to chapter. As they advance, players are presented with three different types of platform-based levels: races, puzzles, and timed events. While gameplay is linear, there is enough wiggle room to allow gamers to move forward using only two of the three different game types. This is a good thing, as the difficulty - and frustration - of each event varies greatly.
Races are the most common event. The objective is to beat one or more AI opponents to an unseen finish line. Using a wand, your Raskull creates a path for itself by breaking bricks and grabbing offensive and defensive power ups. Rounds are quick - usually two minutes or less in length - and require strategy and quick thumbs. Because of their brevity and the savvy AI opponents, races are generally close and exciting affairs.
Raskulls also asks gamers to race against the clock in its timed events. Unfortunately, these aren't races with a countdown timer. Instead, gamers have to reach checkpoints as they proceed down a predetermined path, leading to myriad small frustrations due to the rigid, almost punitive time constraints. After failing numerous times I was cursing like a sailor. I was frustrated by how little time I was given to complete levels and eventually ended up skipping many of the timed events I came across.
While the timed events are anger inducing, the puzzles are fantastic. The brick breaking/brick shaping puzzles in Raskulls play out like Tetris in reverse. Instead of making lines by joining shapes, players make new lines by destroying old ones and melding blocks together. The absence of a clock is a welcome reprieve, and it doesn't take anything away from the sense of accomplishment earned by completing the puzzle levels.
But there's more to Raskulls than enjoyable platforming and puzzles. Interesting characters, continuously progressive gameplay, and some of the funniest dialogue since Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People keep things fresh. Despite some flaws, Raskulls is the best kind of downloadable title - a humourous game with elements from well-designed classics, integrated with a modern touch.
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