The undead threaten to spilleth into Earth and the heavens. Shall thee, oh holy skellington, beest the celestial champion the world needeth?
That is essentially the premise of Skelly Selest, a retro-inspired hack-and-slash video game with a good dose of bullet shooting and archaic English thrown in to make an otherwise quirky experience more "serious".
And the best part? It's good fun at a low price of $3.25 on Steam, with a fair bit of replayability to boot.
Launched on May 1 (2018), the 2D indie title is a collection of short, arcade-like games with quaint pixel graphics and catchy chip tunes not unlike titles from the late 1980s and early 1990s. But similar to many of those games, there is hardly any plot to speak of in this title.
In four of Skelly Selest's game modes - ranging from random generated dungeons to fighting waves of enemies - you play as a skeleton, or skelly, sent by a heavenly order to quell hell's undead minions.
You have three simple abilities to deliver holy justice: swinging your axe to smash foes at close range, shooting your pistol at monsters from afar, and dashing to avoid getting hit.
The catch is that your pistol has limited ammunition, but the bullets can be replenished by killing monsters with your axe.
Besides the usual directional movement controls, you also need to fiddle with an aiming reticule that determines the direction of where you slash and shoot bullets. This can take some getting used to but it also means you can move in one direction and fire your gun in another, which is handy when fleeing from undead swarms.
Speaking of swarms, the game can send numerous foes your way and, if you're a klutz like me, you'll want to use a gamepad to simplify how you control your skeleton and avoid a wrong button press that could mean certain death.
Like the Gauntlet games of yore, the game's main difficulty is dealing with different enemies with different attacks - such as swiping you with axes and spewing fireballs your way - from several directions all at the same time. Things can get frantic very fast and the action delivered at a breakneck speed at times. Dashing becomes particularly important in these instances to ensure your skelly's longevity.
Fortunately, combat is easy to get into and the game's controls are pretty responsive.
While your skelly can take a number of hits, once enemies hack away all its life, the game ends and you have to restart the game mode you're playing. This can make Skelly Selest initially tough for some players - like myself - pampered by the conveniences of modern games, such as restarting a stage instead of the entire game, at least until they become more skilled at the game.
In fact, getting better at the game and improving your skelly plays a big role in making my time with Skelly Selest satisfying.
To that end, the game offers useful power-ups along the way to make the hell clean-up easier - extra health, increasing the amount of ammo you can carry, resurrecting you once after you die, and more.
Some boosts have trade offs though, like the Sainted Armour that "halves hurt suffered but slows thee down".
You can get these power-ups in several ways - as random loot that can appear at the start of a stage, as items you can buy by trading some of your health, as a selection of random rewards you can choose from at the end of stages in some game modes, and more.
The game has two "hunt" modes, in which you kill a few waves of monsters in an arena to progress to the next until you eventually encounter a boss monster.
Another mode features one arena that throws at you an endless number of enemies.
The last combat-centric mode is a dungeon crawl with a randomly generated map for each playthrough and two boss monsters you have to fell. You can also unlock some new skeletons in the dungeons which have different combat bonuses from your starter skelly.
There is a fifth game mode which, to my surprise, is a card game. It plays like Triple Triad from 1999's Final Fantasy VIII. You can collect cards as random loot that monsters can drop in the game's other modes.
The card game essentially plays like Othello and you win by having more cards flipped to your side's colour. It's pretty fun and a nice quick distraction.
PRICE: $3.25 (PC, version tested)
In fact, the whole game is basically a quick but fun distraction. I was able to see most of what the game offered in four hours of play time, including numerous retries, unlocking extra skeletons and collecting silly hats and masks dropped by enemies I could get my skelly to wear.
Considering how easy it is to get into the game with minimal fuss and its competitive online leaderboards - you can score points in the game and there's even a score multiplier to delve into - you can get quite a lot of game for its low price.
More demanding players might find that the game isn't punishing enough, but you won't find me complaining.
And with the developer promising to add more updates to the game, I can see myself playing this for some quick fun every now and then.
Verdict: Skelly Selest is a short and sweet game that's easy to jump into. It also has decent replay value, making it even more value for money.