The second title in the Games for Holidays promotion on Xbox Live might be the least appealing and original looking out of the three, but it very well may be not only the best out of the three, but one of the most enjoyable downloadable platformers in recent memory. The title mixes the classic 2D platform elements with various types of puzzles and races and throws in a whole lot of humor to create one of the best, albeit short, experiences in the history of Xbox Live Arcade.
You start out with humorous little still cutscenes explaining how the Pirats, a pirate group consisting of, get this, rats. Alright, that doesn't sound incredibly creative, but when their ship runs out of fuel and crash lands, they decide to venture out and find an alternative fuel source. Don't think that the Pirats are the heroes, however. In trying to secure an alternative fuel source, the Pirats decide to try to trick the Raskulls, a local skeletal species, out of their Shiny Stones. The Raskulls aren't ready to give up their Shiny Stones, so you assume the various roles of the Raskulls and your adventure to protect one of their most precious resource begins.
The gameplay of Raskulls is varied, but revolves around 2D platforming. You'll make your way through various levels that are hosted in three different environments. Each environment presents various challenges, primarily focused on a race of some sort. Each race will see the players running to a goal or doing laps in hopes to outdo either AI adversaries or the clock.
During these events, numerous obstacles will be in the way of you and the AI racers. The most common obstacles are the blocks that auto-generate within the levels. These blocks add a strong puzzle element to the game due to the fact that they interact with each other much like blocks in a typical puzzle game do. As you destroy them with your spark, they fall and conjoin with like-colored blocks, creating new formations and making the block-busting more calculated. Along the way, you can pick up power-ups and jars that fill up your Frenzy meter, which acts as a turbo boost in the racing scenario. The 2D platforming race is no new concept, but with the tight controls and numerous variations on the idea, Raskulls proves to possess a mastery of the genre.
In addition to the various races and time trials, there exist several other types of events. They range from making your way to a goal through large masses of blocks with only a certain number of zaps in your repertoire, to making your way to a goal without losing your Frenzy. The most fun of the different game variations, however, is the one where you must defuse bombs that are spread throughout masses of blocks. The trick is that you must do them without anything falling on them or causing the bombs to fall. Later on in the Mega Quest mode you'll even come across modes that combine the objectives of other modes (i.e. Defuse the Bombs with a Limited Number of Zaps) and more unique modes like the Sculptor mode, which requires you to zap a certain shape or color of block.
In addition to the Mega Quest mode, there are several multiplayer modes. The multiplayer modes, which span from local to Xbox Live, are all based in the primary theme of racing. These modes prove to be a huge success. If you can get a good group of people to race through the Grand Prix mode, the competition will get serious really quickly and the Mario Kart-esque antics with power-ups and Frenzy will ensue. This really serves to save the title from getting stale after the Mega Quest is done with.
Raskulls really is a great title. Xbox Live and Microsoft Game Studios ended the year with one of their best games. The only thing that we would've liked to see added to this game is another chapter or two of the Mega Quest. With only three chapters, the Mega Quest doesn't seem to really live up to its name, but with the possibility of DLC in the future, there is hope. The Quest doesn't really warrant another play through, but multiplayer and time trials give it plenty of value. The title would be a surefire candidate for downloadable title of the year if only it had a little bit more meat to it. As it stands now, Raskulls is an amazing title that is a little short-lived.