A song of fire and ice arrows
In Skull Legends, players are forced to stand their ground with nothing but a bow and arrow in their hands, and the knowledge of building various towers throughout the landscape as legions of evil skeleton monsters slowly shake their bones and grow closer and closer to their defensive position. Just another day on the job, right? While this might sound like typical tower defense gameplay fare at first, an immersive first-person perspective and deep elemental components make this one of the most refreshing surprises that the genre has to offer on a mobile device today.
There’s virtually no story to be found here in Skull Legends, other than the fact that there are hundreds of bad guys slowly walking to get you, and that you need to stop them at all costs with your trusty bow and arrow. It actually feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity at times, though, considering how everything else in the game is extremely spot-on. There’s a nice medieval theme that’s prevalent throughout the game’s two-dozen or so levels, and fluid 3D character models and animations will take you through four diverse environments including the crypt, a snowy forest village, and a lava-filled canyon.
The controls are fairly intuitive, with a simple tap and hold on the screen to draw your bow, and then dragging your finger to position the shot before releasing your hold to send the arrow off on its way to scoring a headshot. Of course, things can become a little less accurate when you’re trying to snipe an enemy who’s almost reached the bottom of the screen, and sometimes the frantic wait times needed for your character to regain his stamina after consecutive arrow shots can feel a little on the long side; but all in all, it’s typically a breeze to wield your bow and arrow in Skull Legends, and you’ll feel absolutely awesome doing it.
At the core of Skull Legends is an elemental system that defines the way you’ll pick off the different bad guys coming towards you down the road. As you progress through the game by completing levels, you’ll quickly unlock an arsenal of different arrow types that can be used during battle, from fire arrows and ice arrows, to bomb arrows and lightning arrows, my personal favorite so far. But the different elemental arrow types have a much larger impact on your success in the game than you might initially believe. For instance, enemies that are dressed in heavy metal armor will be highly susceptible to the electricity that courses through your lightning arrows, while basic robe or cloth-wearing enemies are highly vulnerable to fire. It makes for a wonderfully deep strategic element to the game, and it’s a real thrill trying to switch back and forth between the different arrow types on the fly when you have a hoard of skeleton monsters quickly approaching your position.
And then, of course, you have your traditional tower defense elements, which let you place various towers at delegated areas around the battlefield once you’ve gathered up enough gooey green essence points from killing the oncoming waves of bad guys. The towers each correspond to a specific element as well, much in the same way as the arrows, and can be a real life saver when your stamina is running low and the enemy horde is starting to grow. And if you really find yourself in a pinch, you can always fall back on one of the extremely effective elemental potions, which function as powerful grenades of sorts and wipe out entire areas of enemy skeletons. It’s very tempting to spend all of your hard-earned coins on restocking these potions, but the game is actually pretty generous with how many of them it gives you in the opening levels.
There are also a lot of refreshing variations on the traditional tower placement gameplay mechanics, which allow you to construct certain environmental advantages like barrier obstacles or explosive barrels that can be ignited at will with a single shot of your fire arrows. In fact, you’ll have so many options to squash the baddies in Skull Legends that you’ll often find yourself at a loss for how you want to spend all of that hard-earned enemy essence, which means split-second decisions are absolute key. Do you put all your resources towards building powerful towers, or do you simply cover the battlefield in barriers and do all of the heavy lifting by your own bow?
Skull Legends has a ton of replay value as well, with varying difficulty tiers and the challenge of earning three stars in every level by not letting a single enemy get past your defenses and emerging without a dent to your health (enemies can sometimes throw weapons at you, and you’ll need to be vigilant and tap them all away before they get too close). But better still is the game’s overall sense of progression, and how you’ll not only level-up you character through earning experience, but unlock new bows that can greatly increase your damage rating or draw distance. And while admittedly some of the later bows are more than a little pricey, you’ll still be able to acquire a lot of good ones just through regular gameplay.
So after firing off what must have been thousands of arrows and electrocuting every armor-wearing skeleton this side of the crypts, I can easily say that Skull Legends is one of the most refreshing takes on a mobile tower defense game that I’ve played in quite a while. The first-person perspective works beautifully with the smooth bow and arrow controls, and the elemental damage system, not to mention the like-minded towers and potion grenades all build upon an incredibly strong foundation to make for one hell of a TD hybrid game. Just don’t take it personally if you see one of my stray bomb arrows headed your way!