Puzzle games are a dime a dozen, and most of them don’t seek to evolve the genre. The majority of the time, you see slight variants in gameplay, such as Luxor’s slight variation to Zuma, but nothing really pushes the boundaries of previous iterations.
Thankfully, Halfbrick’s Raskulls puts an end to the long line of Mr. Driller clones, and manages to not only re-invent the genre, but turn it completely upside-down. Read on to find out why you absolutely need Raskulls on your Xbox 360′s hard-drive.
The idea of Raskulls is pretty simple. Like Mr. Driller, your character can “pop” colored blocks, which allow you to progress through a stage, or complete a puzzle. But the comparisons truly stop at the concept of popping blocks. Raskulls features a number of different modes, a lot of which focus on four player races, involving powerups, mid-race puzzles, and overdrive abilities.
For starters, Raskulls contains a full, progression based story mode – something that isn’t really found in modern day puzzle games. Consisting of three chapters, the campaign simultaneously features story-driven races and puzzles, as well as tutorials to help you in the game’s multiplayer component. During your time with the campaign, you’ll also watch the on-going saga of the battle between the Skull King, and the dastardly Rat Pirates. Surprisingly enough, the game’s humor made me laugh out loud numerous times, and the jokes range from your standard internet “l33t” fare, to grim dark humor, to knee-slapping Saturday morning cartoon antics.
In addition to the strong sense of humor, Raskulls also doesn’t play around with arbitrary goals for their campaign. For instance, in a particular bomb defusing level, you aren’t just blowing up bombs for the hell of it: it’s because the mischievous Mummy Raskull put them there to guard his tomb. On another stage, you aren’t just tunneling down a particular mountain for nothing: you’re trying to help Red Riding Skull escape her creepy unrequited lover, Mage Skull.
Every stage is hand-made and tailored to a new experience, and it helps add a ton of unique charm that will keep you going without wanting to stop. For instance, there are sculpting levels, that require you to carve out specific blocks; levels that limit the amount of blocks you can destroy; and so on. All of these concepts never overstay your welcome, and by the time you master a certain level type, you’ll be moving on to the next one.
The world map system also lets you skip some levels if they’re too hard, or you can’t grasp a particular concept. In addition to all of the activities I mentioned above, you’ll also have a number of boss races, and even a final, classic old school boss finale. Long story short, you won’t get bored of the campaign for a second. If you were to get every medal in every level, expect it to take around five hours (and if you want, there are a number of leaderboard levels that compare you to your friends), which is pretty hefty for a $10 game that includes multiplayer options.
A lot of the campaign’s fun factor, for me, came from unlocking the game’s various multiplayer characters through secret challenges and stages. After earning a certain amount of medals, or beating certain levels, “star” stages unlock, which feature a specific challenge from a brand new character. If you complete the challenge, you can use the new model in any race or multiplayer game – almost all of them are cute, and Raskulls even features gaming blog Destructoid’s own robot mascot, “Mr. Destructoid”.
Most puzzle games suffer from a major problem: a lack of online community, and a lack of bots. Meaning, once you’re done with the story, you have nothing to do. Thankfully, Raskulls not only includes online and offline multiplayer, but bots as well, so you can race to your heart’s desire on any of the four grand prix courses, or any of the game’s 16 racetracks. While your mileage may vary when it comes to the online community (and what XBLA game doesn’t), four player split-screen local play and single player bot races should keep you busy for a long while. If I had to guess any upcoming DLC, it would be additional story chapters and race packs – and from the looks of the main menu, there is something planned.
The grand prix challenges are extremely fun, and even have their own meta-unlock as well. If you play them offline, you can unlock the special “Intense” bot difficulty if you complete a grand prix race set on hard mode. It’s these little nuances that make games stand out among their contenders, and give you something substantial to do in any mode you choose.
I seriously doubt anyone would play Raskulls and not enjoy some aspect of what it has to offer. The numerous puzzles, races, and power-up heavy multiplayer facets are sure to engage just about any type of gamer out there: puzzle fan or not. If you have any free time in the near future, I’d recommend downloading the trial version and see what it has to offer: you won’t be disappointed.
Raskulls can look rough at times, but during gameplay, it runs as smooth as butter, and the cutscenes are adorable.
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There really isn't a game out there like Raskulls - it's so simple to play, yet there is a ton of depth to it.
While the story mode voice acting is cute, and the music is great, the sound effects aren't that special.
For $10, you really can't go wrong with a hefty campaign, off-line bot support, local four player modes, and online play.
Raskulls is one of the best puzzle games I've ever played, and the gameplay is extremely varied: check it out.