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Rogue-lites: Skul: The Hero Slayer

James Lees looks at the second instalment of our feature series on rogue-lites. A game that puts a twist on the classic story of the princess in the tower.

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Image Credit: Skul: The Hero Slayer, Neowiz

Continuing our series exploring budget rogue-lites, we next come to Skul: The Hero Slayer, released on 20 January on Steam for just £15.49. Being released from early access, this game began life as a project in a Korean college’s game development club in 2017 eventually going through crowdfunding when some classmates formed their own company to carry on the project.

The Hero Slayer has the age-old ‘go and rescue the princess from the tower’, only you're a skeleton on the way to rescue the demon king. It turns the formula on its head without really doing anything. The demon-horde are clearly the goodies, with the heroes being so cartoonishly corrupt and evil that there’s no moral ambiguity that would make the title more interesting.

You interact with a handful of characters and some pencil sketch-like cutscenes which are dubbed over in Korean (thankfully also with subtitles). Again it misses what would have been an exciting story for something so generic as the twist was so obvious that by the time it was revealed I’d forgotten it was even supposed to be one.

The Hero Slayer offers a vast array of items that can change the way you play. With a trinket inventory alone with nine slots, you can experiment widely and feel comfortable taking on something new, ranging from straight-up stat boosts to assorted on hit or actionable effects. The unique twist for the game comes in its weapons, or rather its Skulls. The protagonist ‘Skul’ isn’t all that attached to his head and will happily swap it out for those others have kindly left behind on his journey. Each skull you try on can completely change up combat giving you lots of different options from the fast dash filled combat of the werewolf to a slower more status orientated play of the mummy. Holding on to two of these skulls at a time with some of your most potent abilities coming when you switch between them allows you to be flexible and can make runs very different from each other.

The main difficulty comes from the unbalanced nature of some of the rarer legendary skulls. It is possible to forgo treasures to earn bone shards, allowing you to upgrade almost all of the basic skulls to legendary status. Still, you can occasionally stumble across some of the most powerful ones as rewards for beating a room. The difference in the available skulls’ power became pretty evident when I lucked into a couple of the highest tier ones early in a run and went from never having even reached the second boss to clearing the entire dungeon. But even if some of them are much better than others, they all feel great to trial out.

The Hero Slayer offers a reasonably traditional array of upgrades. Killing enemies and especially bosses will give you some Dark Quartz which is kept upon death and can be traded in for some decent, if basic, stat boosts like more health, attack power and even extra lives. It’s nothing new, but it offers that fun treadmill of progression and ensures that even the worst runs are never truly wasted.

The Hero Slayer offers a fun combat experience which has plenty to come back and explore even when you have finished the main game. The difficulty can swing wildly based on your finds, and some of the combat styles can feel a bit clunky, but this is often more a case of getting used to it. While I finished the game about seven hours in, I kept playing it for a few more just to keep finding and upgrading new skulls. Well worth its budget price.

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