Skeleton Krew – Commodore Amiga Retro Rewind Review.

Derbyshire’s Core Design would bring their final Amiga game to the A1200, and CD32, before moving onto newer platforms in 1995 with the isometric shoot ‘em up, Skeleton Krew.

With its 2000AD style artwork and off the back of quality releases such as Universe and Heimdall 2, hopes were high for the game engineered exclusively for AGA chipsets.

Delving into the set-up, the Deadly Enforcement Aggressive Destruction Incorporation, or D.E.A.D Inc. for short and led by the maniacal Moribund Kadaver, unleash a wave of cryogenic mutations on an unwitting populace. In order to stop the destruction, it’s up to the Military Ascertainment Department special operatives, aka M.A.D, to bring Kadaver down and reclaim Monstro City.

Skeleton Krew

Acronyms abound and with more c’s substituted for k’s than a Mortal Kombat Konvention, the manual’s description and accompanying comic strip gives a good excuse for the darkly designed, titular gang of morbid mercenaries known as the Skeleton Krew to shoot cretins and robots in the face.

Booting this up, a moody title screen and menu is followed by a clean, well-presented character carousel where you can choose your crew member out of Spine, Rib and Joint. While our protagonists fall into familiar categories for the time, fat, fine or female, their futuristic dystopian design is undoubtedly stylish.

Blasting our way into the first area, the comic book aesthetic is carried over into the detailed and chunky sprite work. The vibrant colour palette and forced 3D perspective creates a visually appealing game space to navigate. Environments are distinctive and wild swings in colour schemes denote each new area you progress to, all of whom possess a unique atmosphere. However, there’s very little in the way of level interactivity making them feel a little barren, apart from the odd explosive crate, terminal to destroy or hive of blue insects to contend with.

Skeleton Krew

Eight way scrolling is present despite not really being used to the fullest, although for the most part, it is smooth. Framerates dip occasionally during frantic return fire contests but there is a real sense of fluidity as you traipse around shooting mutants in the hunt for an exit.

The enemy design is equal to the those of our anti-heroes with their death animation being particularly well-done as they devolve into a sloppy mess. More variety would be welcomed as later enemies are obvious re-skins of those found in earlier stages, apart from some monstrous frogs.

Projectiles are oversized and imposing as you swap between laser bolts and mines but lack impact as they pummel into the chest of your foes. While boss fights are few and far between, their models look great even with limited animation cycles.

The team at Core maintained their high standards in creating a world that wears its sci-fi influences on its sleeve, and it’s easy to see why many in the Amiga press were hyped for its release. The isometric viewpoint is reminiscent of games like The Escape From The Planet of Robot Monsters but ups the ante, taking full advantage of the AGA hardware in realising its graphic novel aspirations.

Skeleton Krew

With an incredible sense of style, Martin Iveson’s soundtrack hones that further. While some have lamented that the music is slightly out of place, I feel it works. In-game music is lacking on the A1200, replaced by a more ambient offering but the CD32 version’s dark, jazzy trip hop draws from artists such as DJ Krush and Amon Tobin.

The pounding drum loops, winding bass lines and sharp piano chords gives the game an off-kilter vibe, foregoing the harsher up-tempo electronic blasts that would normally be associated with a game of this ilk. The high-production value of the score wouldn’t be amiss on a Ninja Tunes compilation and help cover up some of the more lacklustre elements of the sonics.

While grunts, moans and gunfire are competent, they can grate and are a lot more tiresome in the soundtrack-lite A1200 version. And when there’s more projectiles spraying around the place than a Ron Jeremy double-bill, it gets old very fast.

The breakbeats and scratches are the highlight of the audio package, compensating for the scant amount of variety in the sound effects. It serves to heighten the aesthetics and provides a more hedonistic feel than many would expect.

Skeleton Krew

Skeleton Krew’s gameplay loop is familiar and linear – shoot everything, destroy a few terminals and find the exit. There’s the odd bit of loot to find and an occasional extra life but none of its core elements run particularly deep.

As mentioned previously, the levels look distinctive, but they don’t do enough in terms of layout to maintain a relatively high amount of interest. The grid based design seems empty in certain stages and the signposting for exits or rooms is sometimes none existent, as you meander around trying to find where to go, only to realise a black space that appears to be part of the scenery is actually a doorway to another part of the level. Some attempt has been made to inject some variety such as clear the arena mini-games, but overall, the structure feels flat and very design by committee, with most areas finishing with an anti-climatic fade to black.

Despite the tedium of the level objectives, Skeleton Krew takes a slightly different approach to its quick-fire shooting. Each of our characters upper-torsos can rotate independently of the legs, which should give you a greater degree of accuracy and freedom. At times, the combat feels frantic as you glide around dispatching mutants while changing weapons on the fly. Characters and enemies move fluidly within the combat area, forcing you to retreat and then advance when you’ve thinned out their numbers. When it works, it really works but more frequently than not, it’s frustrating, especially if you’re unlucky enough to only have a one button joystick.

Playing the CD32 version mitigates some of the building resentment of the over and under corrections as you spin your character around to aim. The developers must be given credit for trying to overcome the Amiga’s limited inputs by giving the player a variety of control schemes for one-button paupers. But even with a two-button joystick on the A1200, you’ll still have to use keys for actions such as jumping, forcing you into some monstrous finger contortions. Even with the advantages of the CD32 joypad, your line of fire doesn’t always tally with the enemy position, but this is a minor niggle. The jumping mechanic is poor and feels like an afterthought in order to traverse some awkward level design.

Skeleton Krew

Each character has the same two guns but plays slightly differently. Joint’s weapon fires slightly larger projectiles but he’s slower, Spine is the all-rounder with the female Rib being the lightest on her feet. All of them will swap between either a laser cannon or mine launcher, with some weapons being more effective against certain enemies. While the shooting feels solid enough, the lack of any power-ups means the action never escalates beyond what you encounter in the first level.

Skeleton Krew is a very challenging game and you will die a lot as you try to master the controls and familiarise yourself with the level layouts. However, persevere and you will be rewarded as you decimate grunts, running circles around their basic AI. Unfortunately, enemy attack patterns vary very little as you progress, with environmental hazards being the main source of death in later areas.

You are initially granted three lives with extra lives being awarded for every 1,000 points scored. With only one continue, which sends you back to the beginning of the sector you died in, it does feel a little stingy. The game would benefit from the use of the password system found in the Mega Drive version but is strangely absent from both Amiga conversions.

Skeleton Krew

The few boss battles you come across are relatively easy to work out and are more pedestrian than spectacle. And this is the weakest part of Skeleton Krew – apart from the A1200 controls – it all feels very safe despite its clearly ambitious beginnings.

The two-player mode does bring a little more longevity to the fun factor, and actually makes the game quite a bit easier, but doesn’t introduce any co-op functionality so gameplay will soon fall into a familiar routine.

As such, Core Design’s (or is it that Kore?) effort was met with mixed reviews on release. Its curiosities fail to fully engage the player and gradually becomes tedious during its short duration. It’s certainly a game you will want to like more than you actually do.

Skeleton Krew is the epitome of style over substance, and dare I say it, feels a little bare bones, which is a real shame when it was Core Design’s last game for our beloved Amiga. It had great potential and given some more development time, and with the inclusion of some the originally planned features, could have been a top-tier shoot ‘em up. But as it stands, it’s hampered by a lack of gameplay variance, a sense of being rushed to market and a confused control scheme.

Check out the full video review below with added trivia about the game, including inspiration and cut content!

Summary
  • 5/10
    Gameplay - 5/10
  • 8/10
    Graphics - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
7/10

Summary

Skeleton Krew is the epitome of style over substance, and dare I say it, feels a little bare bones, which is a real shame when it was Core Design’s last game for our beloved Amiga. It had great potential and given some more development time, and with the inclusion of some the originally planned features, could have been a top-tier shoot ‘em up. But as it stands, it’s hampered by a lack of gameplay variance, a sense of being rushed to market and a confused control scheme.

BoredDogGames

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