3D platformers have recently undergone somewhat of a revival since their peak in the late 90s. Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island is another game to slot into that category and quote, is a “Passionate homage to the 3D platformers of our youth”. The game has been jointly developed by Right Nice, a recently founded studio based in Stockholm who have been responsible for the PC port, and Grip Digital, a studio of experienced industry hands based in Prague responsible for the Xbox One and PS4 ports.
The game casts you as Skylar Lynxe, and starts with you awaking aboard a space station with a new mechanical glove and a reasonable gap in your memory. From here you are introduced to the games main protagonist CRT, a rather retro themed Cathode Ray Tube Television, and a short tutorial sees you escape to Clover Island which serves as the games central hub and gateway to each of the 3 main levels each themed around a specific upgrade for Skylar. The first level is set around a mountain, and focuses on a Jetpack. The second, a desert that revolves around a Time Orb which allows you to slow time. And the 3rd and final level is set in an industrialised volcano and focuses on the Magnetic Glove upgrade, which allows you to lift and manipulate certain objects. As you complete each of the levels, you’ll recover a ‘fuse’, a key item required to foil CRT’s plans and at the same time advance the story by restoring some of Skylars missing memories.
Shortly after landing on Clover Island you’ll be introduced to your sidekick Plux Owlsley, an Owl, who will accompany you on you quest to recover 3 missing fuses for the islands natives Lo’a.
Each level plays out as a mostly linear sequence of platform and puzzle sections, with the later mostly involving activating a series of switches or making use of one of Skylars abilities, normally the new ability associated with that level, to progress. However platforming feels unnatural, with Skylar’s movement suffering from a distinct lack of friction. Surfaces feel icy, and even what should be classed as a simple, straightforward jump between platforms can at times feel unnecessarily perilous. It doesn’t end there either, with combat also feeling clunky. Skylar has 3 attacks at his disposal, a basic punch, a spin attack and a ground pound. However landing a punch feels harder than it should, with collisions lacking precision. As such you’ll likely favour the spin attack which alleviates the issue and seems somewhat more effective. Enemies themselves also suffer from some balance issues. For example one of the games more frequent enemies, Rocket Turrets, have an incredibly high rate of fire that makes it extremely difficult to get close enough to defeat them without taking a reasonable amount of damage which when compared to the simplicity of the rest of the enemies, makes them feel wholly out of place. Things do ease up later in the game, with the Magnetic Glove upgrade granting you the power to catch and return the projectiles and helping to make combat encounters much more fun. But sadly by this point the game is almost over.
As you progress through the game, the relationship between Skylar and Plux also comes across as completely artificial, lacking the camaraderie of Banjo and Kazooie from which the pair are clearly modelled. Plux seems surplus to requirements, nothing more than a vocal sidekick, and serves little purpose other than to occasionally drop a line or 2 about his missing father. The voice acting is also humdrum throughout, with the one exception being CRT who draws comparisons with Handsome Jack from the Borderlands series of games albeit with a lot less wit. Overall none of the cast really manage to resonate, and as such with the exception of CRT they are all rather unmemorable.
Alongside the gameplay issues, the game suffers from a very inconsistent framerate, with very noticeable drops and stutters at regular intervals particularly later on in the game during some of the more intense scenes. There are also a selection of some somewhat annoying bugs to contend with, one such issue returned me to the title screen after selecting ‘Skip Cutscene’ from the pause menu. Granted it did skip the scene, but I did actually want to continue the game. Loading times also feel excessive, and could greatly benefit from some optimisation.
There are however some nice touches, environments do convey a decent sense of scale despite often repeated assets and have some decently designed platforming sections that despite the flaky controls present a challenge, enough to get your palms sweating in places. And as you explore the central hub the music will transition between instruments to match the location much like Grant Kirkhope’s great variation of ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ from Banjoo Kazooie. It’s not perfect, with the transition far from seamless and sometimes abrupt but it’s certainly a fitting tribute.
Overall, the game is an average platformer with an evident lack of polish and some decent but under-utilised ideas. Compared to the games which inspired it, it falls distinctly short of the mark failing to mirror or improve upon a recipe decades old. It’s very rough around the edges, with both performance and gameplay issues although perhaps some of these could be alleviated in a future patch.
For fans of 3D platformers, particularly those who played during the golden age, there are much better games out there which can satisfy your itch, but if you’ve exhausted all other avenues and still need something to tingle those nostalgic nerves then this could, perhaps at the right price, be worth a look.
Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island was provided to us by Xbox via a download code for Xbox One.