Skylar and Plux Adventure on Clover Island (Xbox One Review)
The first thing that came to mind when I first set my eyes upon Skylar and Plux was Ratchet and Clank. Here we have a story of two people working together to achieve a common goal. That common goal being jumping across platforms and punching evil Cathode Ray Tubes.
It’s clear where this game’s influences are. It’s got its finger in many pies, including Banjo & Kazooie and Borderlands. In that way it’s derivative by nature, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In the dystopian future of 2017, we’re kind of low on platformers. Nice, colourful adventures where you spend most of your time collecting things and trying not to fall to your death. It’s one of those genres that just disappeared one day, but we might be seeing a bit of a resurgence.
Skylar and Plux is a solidly-made platforming adventure game with an emphasis on linearity, and a very narrow scope. That’s one of the places where it lets down the side: you can finish it in an afternoon if you really want to.
That said, it’s a good experience to have. Skylar and Plux goes a few steps further than your average indie game. It’s a little bit tighter and more polished than a good number of things you’ll see on the digital stores for a similar price. Mechanically, it mostly works quite well, and its visuals are actually really impressive at points.
You take control of an anthropomorphic cat named Skylar, who awakens on a space station being yelled at by a big old-fashioned computer monitor. Shortly after that, you make your way to the surface and make acquaintances with a cheerful bird called Plux, thus this legendary duo is formed.
One can only assume that’s what the devs were going for for, given the game is named after the duo as if they were well established and would be for many years. But there’s very little interaction between the two, given Skylar is, like most cats, unable to speak English. This means that the scope of the interaction between the two is Plux saying things and Skylar deadpanning him.
It’s one of those mistakes you see less experienced devs make: trying to characterise a cypher. At various points in the game, characters talk directly to Skylar as if they know her, giving motives and treating them like an independent agent.
But YOU are Skylar. You can tell because she never speaks, emotes or even responds to anything in any way. She’s an empty shell that affords no response, so the only person the characters can be talking to is the player. It’s confusing. That’s not important though. This is a platformers, and platformers are about jumping around and collecting things, one of which Skylar and Plux pulls off quite well.
The closest thing to collectables in Skylar & Plux is the little gems you get from crates and dead enemies. You use these to unlock the cages of trapped creatures, which in turn gets you a beefed up health bar. Other than that, they’re totally useless.
The other side of that, the jumping is solidly pulled off. Skylar can jump, double jump and even spin-attack in the air for some extra lift. She picked up electronic tethers to swing from, and unlocks a jetpack that affords some extra jumping distance. Jumping puzzles are mostly really well thought out and satisfying to nail, except a few which are just downright infuriating.
Which brings us onto the topic of combat in Skylar & Plux. Skylar can punch, ground pound and spin attack, but none of them are particularly interesting or effective. The spin attack often completely fails to hit enemies that were clearly in its range of attack too, meaning you’re destined for some needless deaths. This only really happens with the small CRT enemies, but given there are only 3 types of enemy in the entire game, you’ll need to get used to missing quite early on.
The bad guys you fight are either tiny CRTs, missile turrets or machine gun turrets. That’s it. Finito. No more. All of these enemies die with one hit and are mostly very easy to avoid.
The technical problems are very easy to explain too: the game’s resolution is very low, and so is the frame rate. I haven’t done pixel counts for Skylar and Plux, but these eyes tell no lies. This game looks grainy as hell on the Xbox One, and that translates to missing details and lowered colour depth at points.
And that’s a shame because Skylar and Plux does have a really nice art style, with really colourful and interesting settings. I went onto Steam and downloaded some screens of the PC version and found myself getting extremely jealous about how much better it looks. There’s a good chance this is true for the PS4 version as well.
The other tech issue, the framerate, can be a nuisance too but only at specific points thankfully, and only once did I find that manoeuvring for a jump was ruined by the game’s framerate. More often the game drops frames when you destroy a turret.
It sounds like I’m being quite negative, but I enjoyed my time with Skylar and Plux. It very much brings back the spirit of the PS2 platforming era with its intentionally simplistic take on genre standards.
The levels are varied and each bring their own twist to the gameplay, the environments bear that out too. The music is solid, and the voice work is mostly on point, with a bad guy that’s clearly inspired by a certain bad guy from the Borderlands series. It continuously mixes things up by adding new gadgets and abilities to your arsenal, from the ability to descend slower from jumping, to being able to slow time to jump on fast-spinning platforms and dodge behind enemies.