Raskulls!

Raskulls_gameplay

Have you heard of “Raskulls,” Dear Reader? Oh, have you heard of it? It needs to go straight to the top of your “to do” list this instant. This charming little Arcade romp, developed by Halfbrick Studios, is part puzzler, part platformer, and part racer! I don’t know that anyone was pining for that concoction, I know I wasn’t, but when it comes together you can’t believe it’s never been done before. This is exactly the kind of high-yield, low-overhead gaming genius that XBLA has been so good at promoting.

Are we in some kind of gaming renaissance? Has the arms race for sexier graphics finally slowed up, only to be replaced with budget-priced, charm-saturated gems like these? We’ve had “Limbo,” and “Castle Crashers,” and “Age of Booty” (criminally underlooked by the way), and almost too many to count. And now “Raskulls,” easily an equal to any of them, and superior to some.

It’s hard to describe how the game works: you run along platformer- style, “zapping” Tetris-like bricks away to clear a path (usually in a downward direction but not always), trying to outpace opponents who are doing the same. Strategy is everything: one wrong zap and the blocks could come crashing down on you; conversely, make a bold decision and you could open a massive shortcut that closes immediately behind you. In any case you have to decide quickly, because in the words of Rowan Atkinson: “It’s a race!”

Raskulls_concept

The campaign finds many cool ways to break up this formula: some levels aren’t timed, but give you only a handful of zaps. Others require you to stay in frenzy mode almost constantly, turning the player into a much cuter version of Jason Statham in “Crank.” There are more variations, but I’d rather not spoil all of them. It’s sufficient to tell you the game never settles into a dull rhythm, and that’s one of the campaign’s strongest points.

And then the multiplayer. I mean, if you can’t tell from the description so far that this game was made for competing friends, then you haven’t been reading. “Raskulls” lends itself to solo and competitive play so gracefully you don’t even feel the transition. It’s all just…right.

Last but not least is the humor. The dialog has a winking sarcasm that just rubs me the right way. Our adorable little protagonists shout out everything from “that’s what she said!” to “drink this, it’s called ‘Not Love Potion.’” Some may gripe that the dialog should have been recorded, but anyone who heard the voice cast butcher the “Monkey Island” remake knows that text has a dry tenor all their own. I think Halfbrick utilizes that quality deliberately to achieve really awesome punch lines. Frankly, they make “Death Spank” look like the sweaty, overreaching beast that it is.

So there it is. “Raskulls.” Go buy it, and thank me. And long live the Renaissance.