Super Skelemania

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Benal for PC, originally released in 2017.
Super Skelemania is a follow-up to the developer’s previous skeleton-themed metroidvania Skelemania. Once again, you take on the role of a skeleton man who finds himself exploring a subterranean world and acquiring powerups that enhance his movement abilities, allowing him to reach new areas. The narrative of the previous game has been excised completely in favor of a largely wordless adventure on a mysterious planet with no further context as to the skeleton man’s motivations or how he came to be on the planet. Even without these trappings, however, Super Skelemania offers a more tightly-designed experience, with improved controls, more detailed environments, and a map system that aids in exploration.

At the start of the game, the skeleton man has a 1.5x nonvariable jump and a somewhat slow movement speed. In addition, he can whip his skull to the left, right, or upward Castlevania-style by extending his spinal cord, allowing him to bash enemies. This is a departure from the previous game where the player had no offensive abilities whatsoever; even so, bashed enemies aren’t killed, but simply fall unconscious. Some of the previous game’s enemies make a return, but they are more vividly designed with the new game’s expanded color palette, as opposed to the single-color enemies and environments from before.

You begin the game on the planet’s surface, and going to the right leads to an apparent dead end as you reach an elevator shaft with no way to move upward. Walking to the left takes you to another building, and entering an elevator takes you down into the cavern below. From here, the only way forward is down, and you soon drop down a long shaft with no way to return to the surface.

The game world is open, but many passages are inaccessible, per metroidvania conventions. However, the level designs communicate what sorts of skills the player might need to access these areas later, making it apparent which locations must be revisited as new abilities are gained. The opening area shuttles the player through a dark environment, offering only glimpses of the world around him, until he acquires his first powerup in the form of a horizontal dive.

This dive was one of the primary movement abilities available to the player in the previous game, and it’s a bit nontraditional in terms of metroidvania upgrades. Rather than granting the player a faster speed or double jump, he instead gains the ability to jump and then press the JUMP button a second time to fly quickly to the left or right, greatly increasing his horizontal jump distance. The move can be used to cross gaps and also used to speed up environmental navigation as the player can jump-slide his way through any open area.

With this new ability, the player can immediately move forward to explore new areas, or return to the previous area to explore some (but not all) of the side paths. There’s even an optional challenge area that requires some advanced use of the jump-slide to cross gaps and land on toothed traps that clamp shut after a second or two, requiring the player to quickly dash forward again to avoid taking damage, but not move so fast that he slides off the ends of the platforms and into the spikes below. Completing this challenge leads the player to a hidden skull, which increases his health meter by one unit.

The player begins the game with three units of health, represented by a trio of skulls, and these can be lost in half-skull increments as the skulls become cracked upon taking damage before being completely destroyed by the next hit. Bashed enemies also occasionally drop red skull balls which can be bashed a couple of times to restore a unit of health… or possibly bashed out of your reach if you’re not careful.

There are three additional skulls to be found in the environment, allowing the player to double his starting health, although a forgiving save and checkpoint system significantly reduces the peril found in exploring the environment. The game auto-saves whenever the player passes through a door, and save points appear regularly, offering a full health restore with each use. Since players can sustain six hits of damage by default, or 12 when fully upgraded, skilled players will seldom find themselves being killed and forced back to a checkpoint.

The pace of the game is quite fast, with players earning new abilities in rapid succession, and a first playthrough coming in at under two hours, which is comparable to the length of the previous game. Furthermore, each new move earned grants players the ability to move through the environment more quickly, not only letting players blast through previous areas – and occasionally take easier routes through them – but also aiding players who wish to attempt speedruns. So, while the game begins with the typical plodding pace found in other metroidvania titles, it quickly moves into faster action-platforming territory.

Once the player gains the backflip ability, which grants him a higher jump, much of the game world opens up to him, allowing him the freedom to explore as he likes. Travelling down side paths may lead to hidden skulls or to maps that show the current themed area (until the map is found, the player is on his own in terms of exploration). Maps also tell the player where to go to find powerups… and gongs. Throughout the world are five gongs, and each of them must be rung in order to open the door to the final boss. Players who pay close attention to the map may also find an optional area that hints at a secondary objective, inviting players to return to the game for a second run.

Even once the backflip maneuver is earned, the design of the levels still requires that players use their regular jump and dash maneuvers, so new abilities never fully replace the old ones. For instance, when the player reaches water-filled caverns, he must jump repeatedly to swim upward, and jump and dash to skim across the surface of the water, whereas the backflip is largely useless. The backflip maneuver also has a secondary function that allows the player to ascend ladders with incredible speed (a great tool for speedrunners), whereas the regular jump still lets the player disconnect from ladders in mid-climb, which is necessary for environmental navigation.

Players must frequently combine their abilities as well, such as performing a backflip followed by a midair dash to reach a higher platform on the far side of a gap, or transitioning out of a slide and into a backflip to hop between platforms while avoiding spiders. Later, when the player earns the ability to run, he encounters situations where he must run at full speed, jump to cross a gap, and keep his momentum so he can smash through blocks on the other side.

Another returning gameplay element is the ability to roll your skull through narrow openings, which adds new gameplay as the player cannot control his forward momentum while rolling. When the skull reaches a solid object, the skeleton re-forms his body on the spot, so challenges revolve around jumping to hop over pits or avoid obstacles that would stop forward movement. Missing a jump may also mean falling down into a previous area. Unlike the previous game, however, there are no extended skull rolling challenge sequences.

The bulk of the game centers around using your abilities to complete platforming challenges, as most enemies pose little threat. Once you gain new movement abilities and become more agile, a lot of the game’s enemies can be avoided, and environmental navigation is much faster. Much of the challenge then lies in figuring out where to go next, as each map only shows the immediate area, so there’s no way to see which doors lead to which locations, or where you need to go in order to move forward. Again, given the game’s fast pace and short length, this won’t be much of an impedance for most players. While most combat becomes optional as the player moves forward, he must still be mindful of environmental hazards, and he must face off against the game’s two bosses in order to complete the adventure.

Super Skelemania was developed by Ben Allen under the Benal label, with art by Miroko, music by Ayrayen, and sound by Alec Shea. The game was developed as a follow-up to Skelemania, which itself was a follow-up to Super Skeleman, starring the same skeleton character running through a world of 1-bit color-coded areas and dodging a number of the same enemy types. Each game has further refined the mechanics and offered better controls and a more cohesive world design.

Prior to this, Ben developed a number of other games using a very limited color palette. These titles include The Gears Don't Grind, a gravity-manipulation platformer; Get Out of My Way I'm Trying to Eat You, a screen-wrapping platformer; Pink Monster Death Diorama, a precision platformer; and Tantibus a JRPG.

Super Skeleman

The Gears Don't Grind

Get Out of My Way I'm Trying to Eat You

Pink Monster Death Diorama