They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, many disagree with that.  It could boil down to what it is that you are copying or imitating.  Most of the time the imitations are poor copies of the original source material, but what if the imitation betters the source material?  What if the imitation doesn’t only use one form of source material but instead mimics at least three different sources?  Ever heard of the XBLA game called ‘Raskulls’?  I hadn’t heard of it until the day it was released but I’m more than sure that it is destined to be committed to the annuls of gaming history.  Still not interested yet?  How about when I tell you the games that have obviously influenced it: Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario World, Mr Driller, perhaps a little Bomberman and any cutesy kart game ever released. Interested now?

At its very essence, Raskulls is a 2-D platformer, but it would be a massive injustice to say that it was ‘just’ a platformer.  The game starts with a bright title screen with music that could have come straight from Sonic the Hedgehog; immediately you feel at home.  You then have a cartoon story told about the mad Pirats that are seeking fuel for their crashed ship, fuel which you are charged with protecting.  The game then kicks in proper as you initially try to escape the Pirats as you traverse a brightly coloured scrolling landscape.

As you run around you can press a button to demolish blocks around you that impede your progress, this is very reminiscent of Mr Driller and becomes more so later on.  As you destroy the blocks they release power in the form of ‘boosties’ that you can pick up, and when you have enough you press a button and you are granted a boost of speed.  At the end of the level you end up at a Mario-esque end of level castle. After only one level you will feel right at home.

The game map is also presented in a Super Mario way. You can see your ultimate route and the various paths to get there. It is not all simple left to right platforming, though, some levels have you racing through them against other Raskulls.  Some you have to do laps by yourself, which sounds easy but all the while you are having to destroy the blocks that slow you down. There are some frustrating time limits to beat, too.  My favourite levels, so far, have been the Mr Driller inspired levels where you start with limited zaps – the power that breaks the blocks – and you have to reach the finish without running out of zaps.  This takes a good bit of thinking as you are going down all the time and any blocks you destroy may trigger a chain reaction, leading to blocks falling on your head and taking away a precious zap.  You can pick up extra zaps on the way down but they can use up zaps reaching them, so some lateral thinking is required, but it is huge fun. All this is part of the Mega Quest mode where you play through all the events on offer, but you can also play a quick race or grand prix mode of the levels you’ve played through. As you progress through the levels you meet certain criteria that will unlock different Raskull costumes for you to use in multiplayer, yes there is multiplayer too.

The multiplayer is just as much fun as the main game and mostly consists of the racing to the finish line segments of the main game.  Four players online can choose from various character skins, including bonus ones if you’ve played Ilomilo or Kingdom for Kelflings.  You then enter into a grand prix mode where players are awarded medals for their finishing position over four races.  As well as blocks being in the way, players also have the usage of offensive weapons they pick up via gift boxes in game. These can give you an advantage over the other players with a speed boost or a blast weapon to ward off your competitors.  The games I played quickly descended in to a mad frenzy as I desperately tried to keep up and ultimately win a race.  It really is like rolling up Sonic, Mario, Mr Driller, Boulderdash and Tetris all in to the one package with the added bonus of multiplayer.  When you’re playing it it feels like you have discovered platforming Nirvana on a scale never done before.







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