1998’s sequel to the point & click adventure The Neverhood was a genuine surprise for many people. Instead of another Monkey Island-esque puzzler, Skullmonkeys entered into the platformer genre, and is fondly remembered as one of the more underrated PlayStation titles.
For those not in the know, here’s a quick rundown of the story. Skullmonkeys is set on the planet Idznak, where the antagonist of The Neverhood, Klogg, has crash landed. He quickly takes over as the leader of the planet’s inhabitants, a race of ape-like creatures with skulls for heads, plans to build an evil engine (number nine!) and vows to destroy The Neverhood. One of the smarter Skullmonkeys, Jerry’O, sends an SOS message, which brings Klaymen, our hero from the first Neverhood game, to the planet to put a stop to “Kloggmonkey” and his new minions.
A brilliantly simple premise, hilarious music from Terry Scott Taylor and some clever writing backed up with an insane difficulty curve and digitised claymation visuals from Earthworm Jim creator Doug Tennapel made Skullmonkeys an absolute delight to play, so here’s a look at 5 of our favourite levels…
The Lil’ Bonus Room
Strictly speaking, the bonus room isn’t a “real” level, as different variations are unlocked throughout the game by picking up three “swirly Q” powerups on each level, but talking about Skullmonkeys without mentioning it would feel like a slight injustice.
Besides the standard fare of collecting a stash of extra powerups, the real star of the show here is the music. Nothing showcases Skullmonkeys‘ weird sense of humour better than the quirky, meta folk song about how peaceful and lovely being in this safe space is, with your “little, invisible, musical friend for life” Terry Scott Taylor softly singing about how he is “kinda like your dad, and a little like your mom”.
There are no monsters here, hey wait, look over there…. he was just kidding. Don’t be scared.
One of the most memorable series of bonus rooms in gaming, and definitely worth a mention as an extra to the top 5.
Snow levels are generally a mixed bag in gaming. While there are some genuinely awesome snow-based levels in platformers, such as Sonic The Hedgehog 3‘s Ice Cap Zone and Super Mario 64‘s Cool, Cool Mountain, the majority of these levels fall victim to the same old “this is the same level as usual, but with some slidy bits added in” problem.
This is not the case with “Sno”, as it ups the challenge for the player by introducing new snowball-bazooka wielding enemies, disappearing snowball platforms to butt-bounce onto, and the hilariously silly “Slappy The Hamster” protective ring power-up. Paired with the Ren & Stimpy “Sven Hoek”-esque yodelling accordian music blaring out in the background, “Sno” is definitely one of the more memorable levels from the game, at least from an aesthetic standpoint.
The final part of “Sno” adds the element of immensely strong blasts of wind that constantly push you back towards the left of the screen. With the game’s reliance on players nailing the landing of jumps between platforms, this unique obstacle ramps up the difficulty, which makes completing the level feel all the more rewarding.
Skullmonkeys Brand Hot Dogs
It goes without saying that Skullmonkeys uses some pretty childish humour throughout (I mean, one of Klaymen’s abilities is creating a copy of himself by farting from the top of his head…), and it’s safe to say that gross stuff goes hand in hand with that sentiment. It was only a matter of time before this combination translated over into one of the level designs.
Skullmonkeys Brand Hot Dogs is set in a hot dog factory, with a river of briney, putrid horribleness flowing beneath the level surfaces. A huge chunk of the level is spent riding on the top of meat(?) chunks to traverse this grimy mess, while nvigating across the piping of the level. Enemies include jetpack Skullmonkeys, beasts that emerge from open pipes like the piranha plants in Super Mario games and some sparking wires to avoid. Musically, we get a jazzy surf track accompanied by the sound of people wretching and throwing up sprinkled in for good measure.
Another high point to Skullmonkeys Brand Hot Dogs is the boss, Joe Head Joe. Joe Head Joe is a giant Skullmonkey whose body is comprised of a photorealistic head, and is probably one of the most unforgettable, if not disproportionately easy, bosses in the game.
The design really speaks for itself…
Besides the previously mentioned bonus room, Skullmonkeys contains a hidden room that unlocks upon collectiong three “1970” powerups throughout the game.
From the moment the loading screen pops up, you know you’re in for a trippy ride, with Klaymen sporting a sleazy ‘stache and a totally outta sight costume. The level itself is a ridiculous throwback to the decade, with fuzzy platforms, beaded curtains, lava lamps aplenty and peace symbols heavily featured, all set to a kickin’ disco funk soundtrack. 1970’s is pretty solid in terms of difficulty, with the later parts playing into the psychedelia aspect perfectly.
Tough it out through these nightmarish platforms though, and you’ll be rewarded with a single platform with a massive stash of extra lives, with a giant image of a disco dancer’s hairy chest looking on in the background.
The Incredible Drivy Runn
The “Incredible” levels in Skullmonkeys change the formula up a little bit. While still a platformer, “The Incredible Drivy Runn” shares more in common with the minecart levels in Donkey Kong Country than it does with your standard Earthworm Jim stage.
Riding on the back of a ball creature with legs, Klaymen has to hold on for dear life as he is sent hurtling through the level, avoiding obstacles and enemies.
“The Incredible Drivy Runn” is probably the wackiest, most surreal set of stages in the entire game, and is unbelievably funny not just to play, but to watch too. Absolute insanity from start to finish.
YNT Death Garden
Finally we have YNT Death Garden. It’s at this point in the game where we lose the regular Skullmonkeys as enemies, replaced by the strange, deadly bug-like creatures known as YNTs. We also get introduced to the powerup known as the “Glidey Bird”, which allows Klaymen to glide to platforms, often aided by bursts of steam that come from the base of the level.
Navigating Klaymen across huge gaps in the level and avoiding the flying YNTs makes this one of the most difficult experiences in the game, to an almost old-school Nintendo game level. Throw in a jazzy word salad gem of a theme tune, and it makes for a frustratingly challenging time.
Skullmonkeys may not be as widely known as many of its peers during the PlayStation era of the late 1990s, but its unique visual style, rock hard difficulty and warped sense of humour make it an absolute must for fans of the genre.
What are your favourite levels from the game? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!