Games of Summer: Skullmonkeys
We're not sure what prompted Electronic Arts to take a chance on The Neverhood and the second chapter of its Neverhood Chronicles series, also known as Skullmonkeys. Maybe the series co-creator, Doug TenNapel, made a hell of a pitch, explaining how an unlikely hero named Klaymen could stop evil apes with skulls for heads from overtaking the land. Or maybe he just said, "Look, this is going to be silly and hilarious, and it's going to sell like hotcakes -- just like my Earthworm Jim game did long ago." Regardless, they picked up on it, and in 1998, it made its way to the PlayStation, delighting fans of side-scrolling platformers and packing enough hilarious style to keep players coming back for more.
One thing you'll notice right up front about a game like Skullmonkeys is its animation. It's not rotoscoped, hand animated or anything fancy like that. Instead, it's made out of clay. Yep, everything is pretty much clay animated in Skullmonkeys, from the enemies who jump around to the warp gates that practically swallow you whole to the delightful Klaymen, who jumps on enemies and even clicks his heels every once in a while, letting out a joyous, "HOO-EEE!" as he does it.
Like any good platformer, you'll run around collecting clay balls to earn one-ups, while also acquiring power-ups that can lend you a hand, including laser blasts that can destroy enemies standing in your way. The early stages in the game are a breeze to get through, but as you go further into this mysterious world, the design gets a little rougher, with environmental terrors that stand in your way (like electric platforms and fire), and tougher bosses.
Still, the game's sense of humor never waivers in Skullmonkeys. There are plenty of chuckle-worthy moments scattered throughout, including fun little bonus rooms and quirky boss designs. How quirky? One boss in particular uses the photographed head of one of the game's programmers, as he spits out projectiles and tries to finish you off. It's hilarious while, at the same time, involving enough to make you want to beat him and move on with your journey.
In addition to in-game graphics that use stunning Claymation, you'll also be treated to some humorous sequences that pop up between stages that show even more of it in action. One particular scene involves Klaymen downing a can of beans left on a table while a Skullmonkey stalks him. After eating too much, he lets out a thunderous fart (from his brain) and runs out of the room, and the fumes actually cause the Skullmonkey to melt. Hilarious.
Along with the main stages, Skullmonkeys comes with a variety of bonus stages, including the funny Drivy Fish stage, where you control an automated sea creature through a top-down stage, avoiding dangers while collecting 1-ups and clay balls. Another bonus room involves running through chained areas, riding on platforms and eventually reaching the exit.
But one huge part of Skullmonkeys that we can't ignore is the soundtrack, which is easily one of the most hilarious we've heard in a game to date. Terry Taylor put together a great selection of tracks here, from inspired 70's disco themes to a hilarious Drivy Fish song that sounds like it came out of a pirate film, complete with a humming chorus of singers. But our particular favorite is the bonus room song, in which the singer explains, "There are no monsters here," but then switches it up by going, "Hey, look, what's over there? AHHHH AHHHH AHHHH!" Then he goes right back to smooth tempo and says, "I was just kidding, don't be scared." When we first heard that, we couldn't help but burst out laughing.
Skullmonkeys is fairly easy to find on eBay these days, and if you have a backwards compatible PlayStation 3, you can definitely have a ball rolling through it. Though the game does get difficult towards the end, it's definitely a blast for platforming fans. Here's hoping that EA considers giving it a digital release on PlayStation Network somewhere down the road. The Neverhood definitely deserve a second chance at life. Especially with those beans. Or, as they like to call them, "the musical fruit". Because "the more you eat, the more you toot," right?
See you next week for another Games of Summer!