Skelly Selest

A game by Caiysware for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2018.
Skelly Selest stars a skeletal fellow known as a Heavenly Keeper who has been sent by the Selestial Order to destroy the hell-beasts that are spilling out onto Earth on account of Hell being full up. It is up to him to purify the land of this plague lest Earth be overrun. The game is a top-down hack-and-slasher with a dose of projectile combat. There are numerous game modes, including arena combat against waves of enemies, roguelike dungeon crawling, special hardcore challenges with unusual restrictions, and even a demonic card game inspired by Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad.

Most of the game modes are locked at the outset, offering only the option to try the tutorial or dive into the first combat arena. Like many roguelikes, the game is not friendly to newcomers, so players can expect to die repeatedly until they master the basic combat, understand enemy behaviors, and figure out what all of the powerups do. As such, despite the simple controls, a run through the tutorial is highly recommended.

The game features 8-way combat with the main character wielding an axe and a gun. The axe is used for melee combat, with weak enemies dying in a single hit, and tougher foes taking two or three hits to go down. The gun only has five bullets, but ammo is refilled every time an enemy is killed with the axe, encouraging players to get in close to their foes and switch up tactics on the fly. That said, arenas are small, enemies are plentiful, and the skeleton man can only attack in the direction he is facing, so it can be tough to get enough distance between him and his enemies so that he turn around and shoot. Therefore, alternating between the axe and gun requires strategy on the part of the player in order to get the most out of these tools.

The only other move available to the player is a dash, and this is not a dodge roll; the player will still take damage if he dashes into an enemy. You begin the game with five hearts, which can be lost in half-heart increments, although tougher foes can deal more damage and kill you in a few hits. Furthermore, you are temporarily unable to attack after getting hit, so you can’t just slash away and hope for the best. It’s quite easy to become surrounded and overrun even by weaker enemies.

Like the developer’s previous work, Straimium Immortaly, random powerups appear throughout the player’s run, offering the opportunity to significantly alter gameplay. Some powerups offer combat advantages, while others have tradeoffs, such as offering increased damage output but making enemies hurt you more when they attack, or higher damage resistance but slower movement speed. None of the powerups are labeled when they appear on the battlefield, but you can pause to take a look at their descriptions after you pick them up, and some game modes offer a selection of powerups between levels with descriptions of each. Still, you’ll need to become familiar with the icons, because there are item shops that ask you to sacrifice health in exchange for one or more powerups, and you’ll need to determine whether the trade is worth it.

Powerups include increased health and ammo, increased movement speed, assorted spinning orbs that damage enemies near you, and bonuses at stage transitions. All powerup effects are stackable, so grabbing the right pickups can completely alter how you play the game. For instance, one powerup makes your bullets stronger upon reload, while another gives you homing bullets, and another treats bullet kills like axe kills, thus restoring a single bullet with each enemy you destroy. With this combination of powerups, you can all but forego use of the axe and just shoot everything in sight with powered up bullets that are refilled almost as quickly as you can fire them. There are also axe-focused powerups such as faster slashes, a wider area of effect, or bonus items gained by killing enemies with melee attacks.

The first game mode is the Lichemancer Hunt, which sees you fighting through waves of enemies across several themed areas before facing off against the Arch Lichemancer himself. A tougher variation of this is unlocked afterwards called Daemonica Hunt, which is structured similarly but is somewhat more difficult and has a more challenging end boss. Both of these modes center on wave-based arena combat where enemies move in from the sides of the screen, and a portal is opened once they are all defeated. Entering the portal takes you to the next level, which is usually another arena, but sometimes the portal takes you to a powerup drop area, a shop, a tarot card reading (pick cards in the right order for a reward), or a small dungeon. The next mode is the Necrotic Colosseum, which is an endless arena combat mode.

The Dungeon Pilgrimage mode is a more traditional roguelike dungeon crawling experience where the player is dropped into a dungeon and must fight from room to room. The mission in each dungeon is to rescue a damned soul, fight the Arch Lichemancer, and then unlock the door to fight Daemonica. These dungeons are randomly generated, and the player is free to explore them as he likes, with a map filling in as he visits each room. Most rooms have a small number of enemies to fight, and some lock the player in until all of enemies are defeated. Other rooms offer shops, item drops, tarot card readings, etc. as in the other game modes.

What separates the Dungeon Pilgrimage from other modes is that each rescued soul becomes a playable character, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Unlockable characters include a fellow who has only an axe and no gun, but his axe strikes are twice as powerful. Another character is incredibly powerful but dies in a single hit. Players can use these characters in any of the game modes, selecting the best one to suit their style or for the situation at hand. For instance, one challenge level requires that you fight the Arch Lichemancer without taking any damage… so you may as well take in the really tough character who dies in one hit.

The challenge areas are called Penitence Trials, and new trials slowly unlock as you make progress in the game. These are extra hard challenges for expert players, and some of them purposely alter the visuals to make combat more difficult. Even in the normal gameplay modes, the game features low-contrast environments with a limited color palette and gritty visuals, making it difficult to parse the onscreen action and adding an additional burden to the combat (and the game also features optional CRT display options). Further reducing the colors or obscuring the visuals often makes combat maddeningly difficult.

Finally, there’s Clashful Cards, a strategy-based card game that acts as a bit of a break from the otherwise combat-focused gameplay. Here, players are given a set of five cards from a larger deck, as is their computer-controlled opponent, and new cards can be added to the deck by grabbing pickups in other game modes or by winning games of Clashful Cards. Each card has four numbers, one on each edge, and these are played by positioning them on the playfield at the center of the screen.

By placing higher numbers against lower ones, adjacent opponent cards flip and are added to the player’s score. However, many cards have high numbers on one side and low numbers on the other, making it possible for your opponent to place their card against your weak point, flipping your card to their favor. However, players can protect their weak points by placing cards with lower numbers on the edges of the playfield. Players must remain mindful of the overall layout of the cards and the stock of remaining cards on both sides, as it’s possible to cause a chain reaction that converts multiple cards in succession, quickly turning the tide in almost any match.

For players who have mastered the combat, there are also leaderboards to compete for the highest score. Each monster killed adds to a point multiplier, which counts down quickly. By killing multiple enemies in quick succession, players can rack up huge scores. Also, players may unlock a handful of hats and masks during gameplay that allow them to customize the look of their character, adding another element to an already robust package.

Skelly Selest was developed by Anthony Case, a.k.a. Caiys, who is based in the UK, and the game was published under his Caiysware label. Anthony’s other works include Straimium Immortaly, Spirits Abyss, Echo of the Wilds, Ilamentia, and Straima. The game was developed using GameMaker Studio, with music from Ozzed and Rolemusic.