Monday, May 22, 2017

Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island

The genre of 3D Platformers has certainly evolved over time, however there have been recent efforts to bring back the type of game you’d see more from the PS2/N64 era, such as Ratchet & Clank (2016), Yooka-Laylee and the recently-released Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island. When I first heard about this game, the premise of a game of this type intrigued me, as did the art direction and the Ratchet & Clank vibes I got from promotional material. During the first week of release (currently as of this writing), the game was actually discounted from $15 to ~$10, and so I bought it for PS4 via PSN (as there is no physical release of the game as of this writing). The game turned out to be a bit shorter than I was expecting it to be, though in the end I was satisfied with the outcome in spite of its setbacks.

The game opens with Skylar Lynxe held captive by CTR, an evil computer seeking to turn her into a living weapon while in the process of erasing her memories. Though she cannot speak, a robotic arm installed in place of her right arm acts as a living computer, and so turns against its master, CTR, to help Skylar escape. After escaping in a pod, Skylar crash-lands on Clover Island, an island shaped exactly like a 3-leaf clover, where she meets an owl named Plux Owlsley, who has been waiting for his father to come back to him. With the inhabitants of Clover Island in danger from CTR, Plux uses his knowledge of the island to aid Skylar in stopping CTR’s takeover.

Skylar (left) and Plux (right).

The basic premise is not unique, however there is an evident effort made to give the story its own identity, even while acknowledging its own clichés. There is some humor here and there, though I have a feeling that a (somehow predictable) reference to Miley Cyrus’ infamous 2013 song “Wrecking Ball” might seem dated for those that don’t know what it is. Though the overall game has more of a Ratchet & Clank sort of vibe, the general relationship between Skylar and Plux can be more compared to Jak and Daxter (as per The Precursor Legacy), in that Skylar is mute while Plux offers some snarky commentary and puzzle hints (there’s even mention of something similar to the Precursors from said game, though that sort of thing is not unique to Jak and Daxter); there’s even a Trophy/Achievement you can get for listening to a specific dialogue exchange. The characterization of Plux is also admittedly a little inconsistent, in that he is said to have great knowledge of Clover Island and is partnered with Skylar for that reason, however this knowledge doesn’t come up very often and most of the time he simply fulfills the aforementioned “Daxter” role.

The gameplay itself is simple, yet effective. Like the games it is trying to emulate, the levels are linear, however there is also some incentive to explore the world to find hidden secrets, contributing to the overall Ratchet & Clank vibe. Throughout the game, gems can be collected within each of the levels, whether out in the open or hidden inside crates and pottery (and defeated enemies). The gems can restore your health over time upon being collected, otherwise they can be used to open cages holding Clover Island residents captive; there are plenty of gems to find within the game world, so you don’t really need to worry about running low. Skylar can also obtain special gadgets that offer different abilities (including the ability to slow down time), which actually gives the game a sort of interesting Metroidvania element to it. The game also has some well-constructed puzzles, which, while not that difficult, can still provide a good challenge.

Somehow I manage to keep playing games where it's difficult to find screenshots.

The graphics are actually decent, fitting in with the game’s art style and the cartoonish styles of the games inspiring it. The cutscenes are in a traditional style with limited animation, though it can be argued this is meant to emulate a comic book feel. The voice acting is also decent, especially given there are only three voice actors and each voice still sounds unique from each other. I’m not sure what I can say about the music, although I can say the sound design is otherwise handled well. There is, however, an occasional issue with the framerate, as it can slow down significantly when there are too many enemies on-screen. There’s also an issue with the camera, as the default settings in the middle of the slider were actually a bit too sensitive for me, resulting in me having to lower the settings to get it to a more manageable speed.

Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island is actually pretty well-made despite its faults, even for an indie title. Some elements of the game may seem familiar to those familiar with older 3D Platformers, however the game does a good job in emulating that style of game, delivering on what it set out to be. It’s not a perfect game and it may seem a bit short for some, however it’s worth giving a go, especially if you can get it at a good discount. While delving in genre clichés, it’s clear that a lot of thought was put into making it a solid new IP. Though I honestly have some doubt about the game warranting a sequel, since some past games with intriguing concepts never really made it far as a series (ex. Blinx the Time Sweeper, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy), I can actually see the potential for a future follow-up game to further improve and expand upon both the core characters and the general concept as a whole.

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