Review: Fancy Skulls

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The ever-present danger of Early Access is how there are really no repercussions for a developer who abandons their project. Such is the case with Fancy Skulls, a terribly promising avant-garde first-person roguelike whose updates were strung along for more than a year before ending entirely. Some Early Access titles can still be worth the experience if they’re far enough along, and Fancy Skulls comes close, but sadly misses some essential polish elements to make the cut.

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I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the titular Fancy Skulls are. Your roguelike shootings play out over nine levels of randomly-generated perfectly square rooms. Many of these rooms are populated by very angry art installations that try very hard to kill you. I’m only half-kidding, the game is supposed to take place in some kind of museum. In any event, you’ll be circle-strafing plenty of modern art creations with your trusty revolver and secondary weapon (if you find one). There are flamethrowers, SMGs, mortars, cannons, and ray guns that I’ve found so far, and each is pretty unique in its operation.

You’ll find coins to buy upgrades or gamble with, keys to open chests, personal upgrades, and eyes that give powerful abilities on long cooldowns. Your weapons can be upgraded to an impressive degree like on my last run, where my revolver became a single-shot insta-killer with no reloads. The assortment of enemies can prove quite difficult until you learn how they operate, but once you’re familiar with their patterns much of the challenge disappears. You earn up to three “crowns” per room, one for taking no damage, one for missing no shots, and one for clearing out enemies quickly. These seem to serve no purpose, but there is one room per level where you MUST earn all three or die instantly, which I started skipping because they’re the quickest way to end a promising run and they have no real benefit.

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The atmosphere is subdued and creepy, but honestly the game looks more like a lot of placeholders than a fully realized artistic vision. And that’s what kills Fancy Skulls for me, it’s very conspicuously unfinished. There aren’t enough enemies or room varieties to carry more than an hour or two of runs. The nine levels end with a single splash screen. Stacked up against the likes of Ziggurat or Eldritch, Fancy Skulls just doesn’t offer enough. I’d love to see some more work put into this one because there’s definitely a lot of promise here, but until it’s realized I can’t say it’s worth your time.

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