Skeletomb (Free), by Punk Labs, is a retro-style endless dungeon crawler set in a pixelated fantasy world whose “blocky" design is a nod to Minecraft’s infamous aesthetic. With precious few lives, this game will have you frantically dashing, jumping, and swinging to try to survive as long as possible and climb deeper into this fun but deadly world. There are 28 characters to unlock, including a White Knight, a Skeleton, the “Dan in a Box" (think Jack-in-a-Box with a club), a Jester, and the Viking-like Bourboness, to name a few. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is an appropriate match to the quirky and simple art style.
Skeletomb allows players to unlock new characters by watching the occasional ad and each avatar can be customized with different eye, hair, and skin colors. The character designs are charming and witty takes on familiar archetypes: the recycling-conscious, mage-like Earth Pewp is more of a staff-wielding, tree-hugging hipster. Check each character tag in the menu to enjoy more subtle nuances like this.
Admittedly, many of the character avatars are duplicates, just in different colors with an elemental twist (ie. a red “Jester" and a green “Earth Jester"). Still, it was fun to have so many options to choose from and waiting to unlock them all added a flavor of suspenseful excitement. The enemy types are a little more predictable: swarms of bats, warrior undead skeletons, bounding fire-red demons, and bear traps (okay, maybe that last one isn’t as predictable).
Each level is randomly generated so you can keep coming back without redundancy, collecting coins and achievements along the way. The Trophy list, available to view on the main screen, is filled with witty accomplishment taglines and you can tell the creators had as much fun as they did with their character designs. Maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but the creativity put into the small details like this was a delight to discover.
Skeletomb uses familiar platformer conventions, like moving platforms, deadly cliff faces, barraging projectiles, and “smashable" environmental components. You can also shake up your playthrough by choosing the main campaign (“Adventure" mode) or do a bit of high score chasing in “Endless" mode. You can also compare your rank on the Skeletomb Leaderboards in both categories, if you are competitively-inclined.
Easy swipes and taps will guide any one of these unconventional, ragtag heroes through a landscape of blood-thirsty demons, camouflaged spike pits, towering golden mazes, arrow-spitting cannons, and more. The gameplay mechanics are easy (sometimes a little too much so), though the character movements can be a little spastic and imprecise. It can be difficult to cut-down an enemy when “move forward" is the same keystroke as “attack." In the settings menu different “tap styles" and “sensitivity" options are available, but even playing around with these didn’t offer the precision I was looking for. It was a small drawback, though, in the grand scheme of things.
The world is beautifully crafted and charming in its simplicity. The soundtrack is oddly relaxing; a perfect backdrop for endlessly wandering through this blocky, pastel landscape–at least until your Zelda-esc heart containers empty, which is greeted with a funky little downward spiral of disappointed notes. As a game music aficionado, “catchy" often comes to mind when trying to describe my experience with fun app soundtracks. But Skeletomb is something more-mesmerizing, strangely calming, something that you can daydream to.
This game is fun and mindless-you get out of it whatever you put into it. To be honest, randomized/endless dungeon crawlers aren’t usually my thing, but Skeletomb may have just changed my mind.