Skul: The Hero Slayer Review – 2021’s First Great Roguelike

Skul: The Hero Slayer Review

2020 was an absolutely incredible year for roguelikes, with the release of some of the genres best titles in recent memory, from Monster Train, to Risk of Rain 2, to Hades — a roguelike so good that it walked away with multiple game awards, and was even nominated for game of the year. 2021 has a lot to live up to, but so far we’re off to a great start. The first major roguelike to release this year is Skul: The Hero Slayer. After a little under a year in Early Access, the game’s development is finally finished and it’s received a full release. 

Skul: The Hero Slayer takes the classic fantasy tale you know and love, and turns it on its head. Normally stories follow the perspective of the hero, slaying demons in order to save the land, but in Skul, the heroes are the enemies. After humanity sends its greatest heroes to invade the monster realm and kidnap the Demon King, it is up to a little Skeleton named Skul to face the imperial army and to rescue the king. Of course, he’ll have to slay a few heroes along the way.

Skul has the unique ability to swap his skull with others he finds in the world. Each skull offers a unique set of abilities that are randomly assigned each run. Skulls come in four tiers; common, rare, unique, and legendary. A new addition to the game’s full release is the ability to collect bones by destroying unwanted skulls, or by collecting those given to you by certain NPCs. These bones can then be exchanged with an NPC named Arachne in order to upgrade a skull to the next highest tier. 

A Fantasy Like No Other

The core gameplay loop starts you off from the Demon’s Castle where you can purchase upgrades from the Witch and grab a few starting items and buffs once you unlock some more NPCs. You will have to make your way through five main areas in order to reach the game’s new final boss, to beat the game. I won’t spoil the last boss, but for those who have played the game pre-launch, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but will be very exciting to see nonetheless. 

Combat is quick, fluent, and addictive. I mentioned earlier that each skull has its own set of potential abilities and rarity level, but there are also different types to obtain. Balance skulls offer a well-balanced experience between all stats, speed skulls move and attack fast, but deal less damage, and power skills are strong but slow. Take for example the Werewolf and Ent skulls. Both are common tier, but the Werewolf is a speed-type skull and thrives when dashing from one side of the screen to another, dealing quick but decisive blows. On the other hand, the End skull is a power-type –its a lot slower than the Werewolf, but each punch packs a sizable amount of damage. Plus, it looks like Groot!

The different skulls offer plenty of run variety on their own, but paired with some of the insane synergies you can build with the items you find on your run –there is a lot to try out in this game.

Like with any roguelike, replayability and longevity is always put into question. While you can see the full story by successfully running through the game once, the game incentivizes you to keep playing with new skulls to try out, new synergies to build, and of course, achievements to collect. Enemy variety is terrific with each area having a pool of enemies to throw your way. Boss fights are challenging, but conquerable. You may very well lose your first couple of innings with one of Skul’s big bads, but with the right upgrades and a solid combination of skulls and items, you’ll get through em’ in no time.

Graphically, the game is simple yet gorgeous. The 2D pixelated graphics are vibrant and eye-catching. The skulls range from adorable to extremely badass, and the same goes for the friends and enemies you make along the way. 

Skull-bashing Fun

The full release of Skul: The Hero Slayer did a lot to expand upon the game, adding two full worlds with bosses, the new skull upgrade system, a variety of new items and NPCs, and it finished the storyline with added voice acted cutscenes. Skul: The Hero Slayer is an example of a game making use of its time in Early Access. It didn’t fall into the Early Access trap of laying dormant waiting for an update. The developers took the time they needed to finish the game and built a dedicated community in the meantime. 

If I had to request anything be added to the game, it would be diverging paths. It is great that the game’s story has been finished with the addition of the last two areas, but one thing any great roguelike needs is the ability to walk off the beaten path and to take an alternate route. The only choice you get in your route is to choose between different doors that offer different types of rewards, but ultimately, they will all lead to the same bosses. Some alternatives would make for incredible additions down the road. Of course, more skulls would also be appreciated as well.

For those who have never played Skul: The Hero Slayer, I really have to recommend it. It may appear a bit basic compared to some other roguelikes, but it is a fantastic game that’s much deeper than it initially seems. It’s even up there with Hades as one of the rare Roguelikes with an intriguing story.

If I had to compare it to any other title, I would say Dead Cells. Not just because of the similar 2D action platformer gameplay, but also because Dead Cell’s protagonist, the Prisoner, is available as one of the most fun and powerful skulls in the game. So if you’ve been sleeping on Skul: The Hero Slayer while waiting for the development to finish, then it’s high time to walk up and smell the Ents, because this game is one you’ll want to check out.

***PC game code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Addictive gameplay loop
  • Intriguing storyline
  • Great variety in playable characters (skulls)
  • Fun and challenging boss fights

The Bad

  • Linear world progression with no diverging paths
  • Room to grow