The onset of 3D graphics in the 5th generation led industry leaders in animation, such as DreamWorks, to gravitate towards making videogames. Some of those games, like Skullmonkeys, were visual and graphical masterpieces that still hold up today.
However, other than with its brilliant clay aesthetic and animations, the game is not a particularly engaging platformer at all. You are probably better served watching many of the brilliant claymation movies of the 90s instead.
Publisher: Electronic Arts.
Developer: The Neverhood, Inc.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"The wicker Kloggmoneky has got my people working on a deadly weapon called Evil Engine Number 9. He is going to use it to blow up the Neverhood"
The game starts with a visually impressive claymation CGI scene, where the evil Klogg disguises himself as one of the Skullmonkeys and starts commanding the idiots to build an evil death machine. One of the smarter Skullmonkeys sends a message to the hero of the game, Klaymen, to save the day.
Between each "world" in the game, another claymation CGI scene advances the story, or more commonly, is used to provide some humorous take. While the humor is almost always focused on gross-out or slap-stick humor, it is well-done enough to be really appreciated.
The closest parallel game in its style that I can think of is the Earthwork Jim series, but it doesn't have the absurdist look and consistent satirical take as that game. Klaymen is an expressive protagonist, especially with his multitude of funny animations, but the entire game's world doesn't differentiate itself from anything else other than being made of clay.
The idle animations are really expressive
Luckily, the clay aesthetic does do a good deal of the heavy lifting towards making a world that you may care about. At least, I know that I had a blast watching all those claymation shorts.
"My people are too smart to make him a leader"
In order to see the great cutscenes, you will first have to go through each level, and that's where the game's problems begin. Simply put, it's just a rather basic and boring platformer at its core.
Mechanically, Klaymen moves fine, but with a little annoying imprecision in his movements. He can jump on top of enemies to defeat them, gaining a little jump boost in the process. Running is an option, which increases your jump's height and length. Other than jumping on top of enemies, Kleyman also has access to projectile resources which he can use to shoot at enemies.
So, while the controls are fine and there seem to be the tools to make an interesting platformer, the level design is extremely poor. Take this section as an example: a rotating platform is far enough that you need to estimate when to jump to reach it, and once you do so, there is another rotating platform after it with the same speed and timing, and then another, and then another. For six or seven straight jumps, you are making the same exact move, and that situation repeats all over the game.
This doesn't look suspicious at all
Levels are built with no rhyme or reason. Obstacles are copy-pasted between levels or repeated without variety within the same level, enemies are placed in weird locations, and there is no really need to use any of your tools for the majority of the game.
In theory, each level has an upper and lower path to the end goal, but the design is so indistinctive that you could sleep fall into the lower path and not know the difference. This issue repeats across all levels, as they feel little different other than through their backgrounds.
Even the bonus stages prove to be incredibly boring, but not as boring as the repetitive and shallow bosses you occasionally fight. What adds to the frustration of boredom is the limited health hit points you have, which given some of the game's imprecisions, makes it harder than it has any right to be.
"Here is a little bonus room cause I know you had it tough, and here is a little bonus tune about collecting really cool stuff"
With its DreamWorks pedigree, and as can be seen from the excellent claymation CGI scenes, the game's production in graphics and sound is top-notch.
In line with its claymation movies scenes, the game's polygonal graphics are crafted t appear like they are made of clay and that illusion works wonderfully, at least when it comes to the characters. They move and animate fluidly, in line with their supposed substance. Even Klaymen's idle animating is crafted with care and a focus on humor.
However, the game's backgrounds and platforms are not built with the same purpose in mind, with an aesthetic that is too dark and grungy for most of the game, only occasionally beaming with personality like in the snow levels.
The snow levels are automatically better because they are not as dark
A similar take can be made regarding the game's soundtrack, which has a brilliant and unique soundscape but it repeats too often. At least, I felt the repetition more given the length and boring repetitive nature of each level.
The production highlights remain the game's amazing CGI scenes, which showcases expertise in claymation that isn't diluted by the console's specifications at all. In fact, that same design sensibility does show in the animation of the main character throughout the game.
Skullmonekys is a game crafted with its clay aesthetic in mind, and it absolutely nails that with its expert CGI scenes between each level and the in-game graphics and animations as well. It even manages to have a decent story and an interesting world made of clay.
Unfortunately, the clay is only half-baked when it comes to its gameplay, especially in its extremely boring and basic level design, which fails to differentiate it from the most average of Platforming games in a very crowded genre.
1-You can go inside some walls to get some secrets.
2-Collecting icons unlock bonus stages where you can get lives and resources.
3-Jumping near the head of an enemy will count as jumping in top of them.
4-Jumping after running will lead to a higher and longer jump.
5-Collect 100 clay balls to get a life.
The platforming is just too basic
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now reviewing Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Even the bosses are nothing special
I would have probably forgiven SkullMonkeys shortcomings more as a kid given its visual charms. However, with decades of Platforming experience under my belt, I can only grade it as a mediocre platformer with an interesting aesthetic.
Hopefully, the next game I am reviewing, MediEvil II proves to be a 3D Action Platformer game with more substance. I am skipping a review of the first MediEvil game because it had a rather faithful remake (to its detriment) in 2019.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: