While The Neverhood found some small amount of success in the world of personal computers, the designers felt they needed to tap into a bigger audience. While most gamers and critics loved the hilarious animation, the puzzles were off-putting to many players, despite their simplicity. So for their next game, they decided to go broader and create a platformer for the PlayStation. And thus was born Skullmonkeys..
The evil Klogg was banished from The Neverhood at the end of the first game, but has now ended up on a planet ruled by scary-but-stupid creatures known as Skullmonkeys. Klogg becomes their leader and sets off to rule the planet, while Klaymen is brought into the scene to stop him. Like the original game, the story is told through more gorgeous claymation sequences. While there aren’t nearly as many, what’s there is particularly precious, especially the “beans” video after the first stage.
The gameplay is almost exactly like Donkey Kong Country – move forward, jump over pits, jump on top of bad guys, and collect icons to get 1-ups. There’s a small assortment of weapons – including the ability to create a duplicate Klaymen by farting and to destroy all of the enemies on the screen with the “Universe Enema”. There are also tons of secrets in each level, whether they be power-ups or hidden bonus rooms. The controls are a little bit on the loose side and the scrolling can sometimes feel a little bit haphazard. Even worse, there are lots of foreground elements that can block enemies or platforms from view. Considering that Klaymen will explode after being touched once, this can lead to tons of cheap deaths. There are plenty of respawn points and numerous opportunities to get extra lives, but it can get quite frustrating. There are tons and tons of levels, although most of them are quite short. Unfortunately, the developers decided to implement a password system rather than a save game feature, but at least it lets you cheat to see the later areas if you’re bored.
Thankfully, the game’s sense of humor is still intact. One of the secret levels is simply entitled “The 1970’s” and is filled with shag carpet, lava lamps, funky music, and trippy visual effects. One of the later bosses is the gigantic head of one of the game designers. And Terry S. Taylor is once again back to provide the soundtrack, this time focusing on catchy drum beats mixed with some snazzy bass guitar riffs. But the real standout is the Bonus Room song, a goofy lullaby that’s both hilarious and creepy at the same time. (“Here’s a little bonus room, where you don’t have to worry /Take your sweet time, you need not hurry /Oh, you’re looking incredible, you’re the bomb! /And me, I’m kind of like your dad, and a little like your mom.”)
Like its predecessor, Skullmonkeys is so focused on the classy visuals that the gameplay never rises above the realm of “competent”. And since it doesn’t have same level of storytelling or atmospheric immersion, it doesn’t quite succeed as a work of art either. It’s still quite fun, though, especially considering any kind of 2D platformer is a rare beast on the PlayStation.