Despite their content-filled, often weightily atmospheric and sprawling worlds, the non-linear platform games we commonly call ‘Metroidvanias’ have a long-running association with quick completion times. From the original Metroid’s multiple completion time-based endings to the speedrunning communities that have formed around classic and modern Metroidvanias alike, there’s a whole subculture of play formed around cutting corners and blasting through them as quickly as possible.
Now, what if we told you there was game in this genre that even you could complete in about an hour? Well, that game is Super Skelemania, a self-described “single-sitting Metroidvania” that will competently rush you through the classic gameplay arc in a fraction of the usual time.
Perhaps showing its full commitment to the ‘Metroid but quick’ design goal, Super Skelemania opens with a short animated image showing an object falling to the surface of a planet. Cut to your skeleton character asleep in a dirt field, and well, that’s pretty much it for the story. Super Skelemania knows that you know how this works. So off you trot to explore some thematically distinct underground areas, get some power-ups, beat a boss and rocket back off this rock.
Progression through Super Skelemania’s quick little campaign is exclusively about upgrading your bony boy’s movement. First impressions on this front aren’t the greatest – while skeletons are by most definitions terrible at movement (No, Ub Iwerks was not a trustworthy source of skeletal facts in 1929), your character moves around quite ponderously through the first few areas. However, from the very first upgrade you grab, you’ll start to form a more positive opinion.
This is because the dive, somersault, bowl, dash and ground pound moves you unlock through the course of the game are each very satisfying to use. The dive has an unusual, exaggerated arc that gets you over wide gaps. The somersault lets you jump higher and can be combined with the dive to go higher and further still. The bowl sees your skeleton roll his own head under low ceilings – with the twist that you’ll keep going until you hit a wall. The dash and ground pound allow you to crash into new areas, and the former helps quicken the pace of the game overall.
These movement options would be meaningless without levels to contain them, and overall everything feels appropriately roomy, with space for some interesting platforming challenges demanding you to string together dives and somersaults to progress. Unfortunately, the environments aren’t as interesting to look at, often featuring overly repetitive tiles and uninteresting background layers – lacking the character of the 8-bit titles it aims to emulate.
The areas are at least visually distinct, and the relatively atmospheric soundtrack gives each one a sense of place even despite the minimalist leanings. The problem is that many individual screens lack any kind of visual hook, so it can be difficult to recall areas that you need to backtrack to. Due to the brevity of the game this never plays out as a substantial issue, but it is disappointing all the same.
Similarly, don’t expect much from combat in the game – there is one three-directional attack, and two bosses to use it against. The number of unique standard enemies is about right for the size of the game, though nothing stands out as particularly memorable.
A more serious issue we encountered was screen brightness in the game’s apparently intentionally darkened areas. In both docked and handheld mode, areas that appear in PC screenshots to be fully visible were impossible to see on Switch with moderate ambient light. Our last 15 minutes with the game, including the final boss battle, were spent playing in a windowless hallway in an effort to reduce screen glare, and even then we were squinting to make things out. There are currently no brightness settings in the options menu, either (and while we’re on the subject of things that probably need to be patched, ‘-’ is currently the pause menu, and ‘+’ is the map, defying the typical functions of these buttons).
It’s tough to get too mad about any of this by virtue of the game’s $5 price-tag and short length, though it is likely that your enthusiasm for the platforming will only stretch so far. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that the sparks of interesting design speak to the idea that it’d be interesting to see a more ambitious project from the same designer.
Super Skelemania is a passable – if mostly superfluous – effort in a sea of similar games. The satisfying movement mechanics you uncover ensure that the hour you spend playing won’t feel wasted, but whether you’ll feel compelled to pick it up again – or if you soon struggle to recall ever having played it in the first place – is another matter. Nonetheless, there are certainly less competent, and more cynical releases to filter through on the eShop.