words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by aarkipel for PC, originally released in 2016.
Skorpulac features a humanoid attempting to make his way through a hostile world, armed with only a spear. Around him are deadly life forms that spit projectiles, slash at him, and even emit powerful laser blasts. The world is no friendlier, as it is filled with conveyor belts, bottomless pits, and electrical barriers, leaving little safe ground to maneuver. The player isn’t given any context for his actions or the surrounding environment, other than that he must survive.

The player character is represented by a small sprite in a chunky lo-fi environment, with only a 2.5x nonvariable jump and a short range spear to see him through the game’s dozen or so levels. The player character moves at a moderate pace, and he has some midair direction control, but he cannot alter the direction he is facing in mid jump. The player cannot walk while using his spear, although he is free to jump and strike as needed while retaining full movement.

Around him are a variety of enemies, most of which can be defeated with one or two thrusts of the spear, although some foes are much more maneuverable, requiring that he move in to strike, or dodge when appropriate. Among these foes is a frog-like creature that hops very high, well out of the player’s reach, and it continues hopping toward the player’s position on the X axis until it is killed or until it dies by running into one of the environmental hazards. Since these enemies are short, the player must duck to attack with a low strike.

Another tough enemy comes in the form of a bipedal creature with a large pointed arm. These creatures heave their great arms in the player’s direction while dashing toward him, requiring that the player jump away. These creatures also attack immediately after taking damage (they take two hits to kill), again requiring a swift response from the player to avoid being killed. Players must be careful and watch for the white color change that indicates damage was done to the enemy, as a red flash merely indicates that the creature is about to attack.

Dealing with these enemies while navigating the tightly-packed environments leaves little room for error, especially with additional projectile-tossing foes peppered throughout many levels. Patience is rewarded as players must be mindful of enemy patrol routes and the timing of laser blasts in order to reach the level exit unscathed. Laser blasts are short, allowing players to jump to avoid them, although the player can often move to the emitter’s position and destroy it with a couple of quick spear jabs.

The player is able to absorb a single hit of damage from enemies without being killed, although touching electricity or falling into a bottomless pit kills him instantly. Taking damage changes the player character’s color scheme, and taking a second hit kills him, although the player does have the ability to recover his lost health by finding small white pellets. These pellets sometimes appear as enemy drops, but they are more often found in red blocks, which the player may destroy with his spear. By collecting four of these pellets, the player’s health is restored, and he can once again absorb a single hit of damage without being killed. The pellets have no effect when collected at full health.

Health management is of primary importance, as the player is only given five lives with which to complete each of the stages. When all lives are lost, the player is returned to the start of the stage. However this penalty is not as harsh as it first seems, as players are not required to complete the entire game on a stock of five lives. Each time the player reaches a new stage – which generally consists of four levels each – he begins with a stock of five lives, and stages may be resumed at a later date if the player quits the game.

In addition, there are a number of opportunities to gain additional lives. Tucked away in many levels – often in hard-to-reach areas – are orbs that grant the player three additional lives. The between-level map interface keeps track of how many of these life capsules have been discovered. This interface also shows how much time the player has spent playing each stage.

The second stage introduces insta-death water along the bottom of the area with frogs that sometimes hop out to attack, requiring players to keep a watch for bubbles near the water’s surface. This area also features mortar-firing enemies that send out bouncing explosives – which fortunately follow the same movement pattern each time – as well as emitters that send forth flying serpents that move in a sine wave pattern. This area also has red walls that the player must climb, occasionally jumping away to grab another wall, sometimes while dodging mortar fire.

The third stage is a standalone boss encounter where the player floats on a long moving platform. In the background, a huge serpent moves in and out of the water, eventually moving into the foreground to pass beneath your feet or to jump over you. When it passes below, it sends up a set of hovering orbs that fly toward you with light tracking. Some of these orbs will land on the platform and turn into segmented barriers, but the glowing ones will send a wave of electricity along the platform, requiring that the player jump to dodge. This can be particularly troublesome if more than one orb sends out electricity.

When passing over the player, the serpent drops fleshy slugs, while frogs jump up from below, creating a number of obstacles on the player’s way to reach the serpent’s head. After each set of attacks, the serpent pops up on either the left or right side of the platform (based on which side of the screen it most recently left). The player must run over to it, dodging projectiles and enemies along the way, and try to get in as many hits as possible.

After a couple of seconds, the serpent opens its eye and fires a laser across the platform, which the player may jump to dodge. It’s possible to get in a couple of hits before the laser fires, and a couple more before the serpent moves below the surface once more. After you have done a significant amount of damage, the serpent leaves the screen for a moment and a pair of small sine wave serpents enter the screen and move slowly across, after which the serpent returns and attacks more aggressively.

The fourth stage is the last of the standard stages, and it packs in a heavy load of enemies, as well as platforms that extend red drills soon after the player stands on them. However, not every part of the stage is accessible, as some rooms contain two exits, each leading to a different part of the stage.

The fifth and final stage is unlike the others, as the player is simply tasked with defeating a set of stationary projectile-firing enemies in each short level, while dodging electricity that runs along the walls and floors. Rather than seeking out an exit door as in previous levels, the player encounters a glitch-style effect and is instantly warped to the next level.

Surviving these challenges places the player in a room with a heretofore unseen pickup, and grabbing it transforms the player character into a spaceship, where he finishes out the game in an extended shmup sequence. Players can still absorb a single hit of damage without being killed, and restore it by finding pellets, which appear with much greater frequency as the player moves quickly through a scrolling environment filled with enemies and destructible blocks.

While the player spends the bulk of the game armed with only a spear, he now gets to wreak maximum destruction on all of his foes, shredding them with a continuous spray of bullets. However, the player is killed instantly if he comes in contact with a wall or other solid object, and some passageways are quite narrow. The sequence ends as the player enters a large chamber and encounters a menacing final boss. Oh, and there’s also a secret.

Skorpulac was developed by Eirik Suhrke under his “aarkipel” label, and this was his first game release. In addition to game development, Eirik is also a composer and has written music for Downwell, Hotline Miami, Spelunky, Ridiculous Fishing, Super Crate Box, and Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom.