STAFF REVIEW of Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island (Xbox One)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island Box art Although the 3D mascot platformer likely piqued in popularity during the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube era, the decreased interest hasn’t killed the genre entirely. In fact, we’ve seen a bit of a resurgence as of late, thanks to the remake (and theatrical debut) of the original Ratchet & Clank, as well as the release of Team17’s retro-inspired Yooka-Laylee. Granted, one achieved more success than the other, with Yooka-Laylee seemingly having failed to make the splash that it was intended to, due to some unfortunately boring gameplay, lots of unnecessary frustration and a general lack of creativity.

Now, a new attendee has arrived to the party; that being Right Nice Games’ Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island. A student developed game, it’s the debut effort from a small team based in Stockholm, Sweden, which has been published by the folks over at Grip Digital.

As its name suggests, Skylar & Plux is a wholesome platformer that harkens back to the heydays of Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, with some inspiration from Banjo-Kazooie thrown in for good measure. The result is a game that all ages can play and enjoy, although there is a bit of intended profanity to be found. The swear words are swapped for less offensive terms, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see past them.

This short indie romp begins with a rather basic motion comic cutscene, which shows a two-legged cat creature being tormented by a moving television. This strange and slightly cheesy opening introduces us to two of our main characters, those being Skylar Lynx, the human-like cat, and the CRT, a floating television that serves as the game’s big baddie. It isn’t until later, after Skylar escapes with a mechanized arm attached to her, that we meet Plux, a bird who mistakes the cat’s escape pod for the return of his long lost father.

Together, the two explore the local tropics, and soon find themselves staring at an imprisoned white blob-like creature. It’s this alien being -- which the game refers to as the Elder Lo’a -- who helps kickstart the adventure that is referenced in the title. She does this by telling the pair about three missing orbs, which are normally used to power the island’s generator of sorts. It seems that CRT’s interference, which is driven by a desire to destroy and repurpose Clover Island and its outlying areas, has caused two of the orbs to return to where they were created, while the other remains in the big TV’s possession.

I guess it goes without saying, but Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island definitely isn’t lacking in the strange department when it comes to its storyline. After all, we’re talking about a game that has you going toe to toe with a giant CRT television who’s hellbent on ending the world. The good news is that it all comes together, for the most part, and creates what is a decent and somewhat satisfying conclusion, even if it’s all a bit too predictable.

What you’re looking at, gameplay wise, is a rather traditional mascot platformer, which does a lot of harkening back to the good old days. This means lots of jumping, melee combat, collectible finding and colourful scenery. Skylar & Plux also borrows the 'gadget mechanic' from some of its peers, presenting players with tools that they must use in order to solve basic puzzles or manipulate the environment in order to progress. The list is short though, as you'll use a time stalling orb, a limited use jetpack, and the ability to move and manipulate metal objects.

If you take the shortest path from point A to point B in each of the game’s three levels (a wintry mountain, a desert and a metallic fortress), you’ll find that this is a surprisingly short affair. After all, this is a game that can be completed in about two to two-and-a-half hours by someone whose goal is to rush through it. It took me just over three hours to finish it, but I searched for a lot of the hidden Lo’a, and also took my time exploring each environment out of habit. Trying to find the hidden creatures was a good approach though, because the Elder will increase your heart capacity every time you save five of them.

Of course this is an indie game we’re talking about, and one that was made by students. As such, one should go in knowing not to expect the same amount of polish that is typically found in a big budget platformer like Sony’s Ratchet & Clank remake. Despite its developers’ blood, sweat and tears, this is an experience that could have used some more time in the oven, and one that shows its lower budget roots.

Although it’s ambitious, relatively fun, and can be rather pretty, some middling level design, occasionally imprecise platforming mechanics and somewhat frustrating combat mar it. The worst issues to be found, however, are performance problems that bring things down to a crawl, framerate wise, during the latter part of the game, as well as an overly safe approach that has resulted in a game that doesn’t stand out as much as it could have.

Skylar and Plux, the game's mascot characters, also aren’t the most memorable. They do the job, and present a somewhat surprising duo (after all, cats normally kill birds), but neither one has much in the way of unique traits or specialties. Sure, Skylar Lynx has her metallic arm, which allows her to punch the mini TVs and annoying rocket turrets that litter each level, but her feline traits never come into play. The same is true of Plux, who’s mostly just an observer that generally only comes into play during cutscenes, during moments of dialogue or during puzzles where he sometimes gives you hints. So much more could have been done to make these two memorable, but as it stands now, they could be swapped with other creatures and little would be missed.

Still, this definitely isn’t a bad game, nor is it something that deserves to be shat upon. Yes, it’s short, somewhat uninspired, a tad clunky and quite cheesy, but it can also be rather endearing and pretty enjoyable at times. Its colourful and cartoony visuals are also pleasing to the eyes, for the most part, while its half-decent voice acting breathes somewhat believable life into its exaggerated characters. It’s just too bad that the endgame has such noticeable performance problems, including momentary freezes.

At the end of the day, whether Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island is worth a purchase will depend on what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend. Longtime platforming fans who’ve been looking for something to tide them over will find things to like about what is a decent game, while others may balk at a $15 price tag for just three hours of gameplay.

Overall: 6.2 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.1 / 10
Sound: 6.6 / 10


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