Skeleton Krew has brilliant music. It's not often that you can say this about a game, and it's even less often it warrants opening a review on, but this game has been endowed with a particularly good theme tune. It's a hip hop style rhythm, with tastefully sampled and sequenced drums and vocals and it's a pity that some variation on the theme doesn't run through the game, once you actually start playing. Skeleton Krew reverts to run of the mill sound effects.
Shoot 'em ups invariably have a loopy storyline and Skeleton Krew is no different. An evil genius named Morbund Cadaver has taken over a place called Cyro City and inhabited it with nasty Cadaver spawn known as Psykogenics, a variety of mutant animals, ranging from deformed humanoids to wasps and octopuses.
A group known as the Military Ascertainment Department (or MAD for short) are more than a little worried about this, but instead of sending in massive legions of vicious stormtroopers, or nuking the place like would have done, they decide to recruit some cryogenically stored mercenaries to do the job.
Your job, should you purchase the software, is to control one of these mercenaries and do MAD's dirty work.
The three mercenaries are known as Spine, Rib and Joint and one or two players can take a character into action. The best character by far is Joint. He's a little slow but is massive and well armed. The token female is known as Rib and in a rather sexist twist to the plot, is the weakest member of the squad. Spine is fast and reasonably well armed and provides the ideal second player accompaniment to Joint.
The game takes place in what Core Design describe as Supergorescope, which basically means that it has a isometric 3D-style view. There is eight-way scrolling, but because of the size of the playing area in most levels, this feature isn't really taken advantage of in a big way.
The characters are teleported into a combat zone with three lives and you can pick up credits which are littered around most levels. Once a character loses a life he or she disappears and is replaced by a shadow on the floor, which can be moved up to four squares in any direction. Then, once you press the fire button, the character will be resurrected on the selected square.
After you have lost all three lives the game finishes. You however are given one continue which allows you to start off again at the beginning of the level you died on, rather than the beginning of the game again.
Skeleton Krew isn't too difficult, in fact I would say that they've got the balance just about right - which is just as well because there is no option to select or change the level of difficulty.
When I first played the game, the perspective and the style of gameplay reminded me of the old Mirrorsoft classic, Escape From The Planet Of The Robot Monsters, if anyone can remember back that far.
Unfortunately controlling the characters is a little difficult. You have to rotate them to move in any of the eight available directions, but you can't fire and rotate at the same time. Well, you can, when you're in rotate mode, but you can't really hit anything of consequence while doing so. If you're not in rotate mode you're stuck to firing in a particular direction until you take your thumb off the fire button, turn around and fire again.
Confused? So was I when I first tried to play the game. And I still am at times. This can lead to rage and frustration, struggling against the joystick to line up and shoot in the right direction.
The weapons, which include lasers and grenades are very effective, but once again a quirky control method when using Joint conspires to make them ore difficult to use than a square peg in a round hole. Once you've rotated to face your enemy you'd think that pressing the fire button would send the dreaded Psykogenic into laser blasted oblivion, right?
Wrong. If you fire while directly facing an enemy, the laser beam or grenade goes uselessly to its righthand-side (or left hand, depending on your point of view at the time).
Basically as soon as you press the fire button Joint turns 45 degrees before firing. Bizarre eh? Could be the weight of his weapon. Hmmm.
Once you get used to the controls Skeleton Krew does become fun to play. The sprites are fairly well defined and the sheer variety of enemies is such that every new level brings up a new challenge. The end of level guardians aren't too difficult either, you just need patience and fast reactions.
For an A1200-only game the graphics are good but not very special. The Supergorescope has been well implemented and the scrolling and game speed are as smooth and fast as you like. The shooting, dying, teleporting sound effects aren't all that spectacular, but they are acceptable.
Once I got used to Skeleton Krew I enjoyed it. It's not a groundbreaking blockbuster, it's just a good shoot 'em up, if a tad quirky. There are control problems, and some of the smaller levels are a bit tedious, but it 's long enough and playable enough to keep you absorbed until the end.