Skylar & Plux: Adventure On Clover Island
Hilarious Pun Here
A few years back, when retro indie game development moved from aping the 8-bit style to trying to recapture the more demanding look of the SNES era, a terrifying thought crossed the minds of every person who lived through the 1990s: dear god, what if they try to do early 3D gaming next?
See, much like with Winston Churchill quotes, history’s wittled fifth-gen gaming down to the gems. Most people think of the N64 and PS1 era and think about Super Mario 64, Star Fox, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, etc. – well-designed games that hold up to this day, in spite of the technological limitations of the time. But those of us who lived through those days also remember the first Silent Hill, Fear Effect, A Bug’s Life, Final Fantasy VIII – games that, whether or not you erroneously believe are good, are borderline unplayable today because of just how painful they are to control and look at.
Fortunately, aside from a few tragic exceptions that history was quick to sweep aside, no such attempts were made. Instead, indie developers seem to be more interested in revisiting more stylistic aspects of those times, which is a very welcome approach. And with Yooka-Laylee and the Crash Bandicoot remakes, 2017 is shaping up to be the year where they tried to bring back the mascot platformer. With such overwhelming competition, can the scrappy Skylar & Plux find its place?
Frankly, I’m not so sure. Which is a shame, because Skylar & Plux is a damn fine game.
Skylar & Plux: Adventure On Clover Island
Developer: Right Nice Games
Publisher: Grip Digital
Release: May 19, 2017
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Skylar & Plux is a 3D platformer taking place on the eponymous Clover Island, a beautiful land overtaken by the robo-minions of main baddie CRT. Players take the role of Skylar, a silent, amnesiac kitty-cat equipped with a robot arm and accompanied by all-too-chatty sidekick Plux, a comic relief character whose jokes function more as a source of distress. Together, the two must fight through three impressive levels and liberate the island and its native inhabitants, the Loa, from their robotic oppressors.
By far, the game’s shows its strengths in visual design and exploration. Whether lush forest or scorching desert, the environments are incredibly pleasant to look at and explore, an impressive feat given the simplistic design, which clearly pays homage to 90s sensibilities while looking far better.
But the environments are impressive on more than just a surface level. While a clear path forward is always given, creative use of double- and triple-jumping will allow players to advance in less obvious ways (and, I suspect, even unforeseen by the devs) and discover cages where captured Loa are kept – the game’s version of collectibles, although these generally require creativity to reach, making them far more interesting than generic busywork. This is complemented by several puzzles that, while not terribly difficult, are very enjoyable and provide a nice respite from more reflex-based action.
Where the game’s strength does not lie, sadly, is in combat and writing. Skylar’s main methods of battling the robotic hordes are through a melee attack, a spin attack and a drop attack, activated by pressing the melee button while in the air. All three methods are somewhat unreliable, due to hit detection being somewhat suspect and a shaky camera making it very hard to judge distances. As such, combat can be a bit of a mess, with Skylar flailing around hoping to hit something. This makes some early parts a bit frustrating, due to how much surviving combat relies on trading blows. However, combat isn’t really too difficult, and gaining more health by liberating Loa makes things much better in the mid-to-late game.
The writing, however, is where things take a very unfortunate turn. Skylar & Plux is clearly aimed towards children, and this is perfectly fine. If anything, we don’t have enough games made specifically for kids today. But good media directed at children – the kind that endures – is conscious of the fact that someone has to buy it for those children and probably experience it alongside them. This is a problem in Clover Island, where most adults would have a problem with the absolutely cringe-worthy humor, complete with already-outdated pop culture references. At some point in the game, Skylar and Plux use a wrecking ball to clear a path forward, leading Plux to sing – you guessed it – Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball.
“Although short and lacking polish in several areas, I’ve really enjoyed my time with it. And though there are only three levels, each one introduces a new power up whose utility is immediately shown in fun and creative ways”
For fuck’s sake, Right Nice.
If it seems like I’m being harsh with Skylar & Plux, let me make it very clear – this is a very fun game. Although short and lacking polish in several areas, I’ve really enjoyed my time with it. And though there are only three levels, each one introduces a new power up whose utility is immediately shown in fun and creative ways. Skylar & Plux wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and with Breath of the Wild lacking the beloved Zelda dungeons, it’s nice to find some clever variations on them here.
My biggest frustration with Skylar & Plux is that with its limitations, it’s hard to believe it’ll find too big of an audience. It’s a game for kids that’s a bit too niche and a bit too expensive to be discovered by most of them. Which is too bad.
But although I don’t see Skylar & Plux being a huge financial success, I see great promise within it. Clearly, a lot of thought and work went into making this game, and I believe that down the line, with a bit more experience and focus, Right Nice will do great things. I imagine that 10 years from now, Skylar & Plux will be one of those games that are described as an early work that’s “a bit rough, but definitely worth playing”. It has to be. There’s too much talent and creativity here to go unnoticed.
As for the present?
It’s a bit rough. But definitely worth playing.