Between the two games I bought on the Nintendo eShop, I thought it would have been Stranger Things 3 The Game that would be taking up my time, but instead, it was this little-known indie – Skyhill by Mandragora Games.
Seeing ‘SH’ in the title was a subconscious decision for me. I suppose the fact that the second word is ‘hill’ so that added to the interest. You see, Silent Hill (2) is one of my favourite games of all time. I just adore it. It’s not the genre I love most either, but the graphics, story and equally important – the music, are just perfect. When I saw Skyhill, I instinctively added to my basket without thinking. Perhaps it was filling the void of Silent Hills?
But, Skyhill has nowt to do with the Silent Hill, other than the protagonist is a man and the title has ‘hill’ in it. Your character looks like a yuppy. He’s staying in town for a few days in the VIP suite of Skyhill hotel. Out of the blue, there’s an announcement on the news saying to stay in. Missiles are launched, and in what seems like minutes, people have turned into mutants. Your man, let’s call him Shaun, refuses to turn into one of these uglies by eating others (like they do) and instead tries to survive.
Further Down the Spiral
The survival revolves around the building. There are 100 levels, where level 100 is the VIP floor where you reside, and your goal is to get to the ground floor and live. Each floor has three rooms which fill the screen on the Switch. Drop down a level via the stairs, and it’s another three rooms to explore. You have a choice of using a lift as well to return to floors you have already visited – namely your room so that you can craft items and also sleep to regain health.
Health is one thing, hunger is the other. Each time you go to a new room, it takes off some of your hunger resources. Get to zero and your health starts to drop, then when that gets to nil point, you is dead, boy. To combat the hunger, you have to do something quite unique to the world of gaming: you eat items you find or craft bigger and better ones. For the first ten or so floors, I couldn’t find anything to make a combo and was losing health and hunger quite a bit. In that situation, I just ate the butter available to me. Mmmmm.
If you can craft recipes for food, then you can craft them for weapons. It’s the standard thing – a stick, knife, rubber chicken and BFG. Some of those are made up. A current trend for crafting weapons these days is durability. What I like about Skyhill is you can keep using them. It’s fiddly enough trying to conserve your hunger and not lose your health, let alone be without a weapon.
You’ve Got a Bit of Red on You
Survival is paramount here so you need a bit more encouragement than a rubber chicken and butter (saying that, that could be a good combo…). Shaun has passive and active perks available to him with each playthrough. At first, the earlier perks were better than the others, i.e. one such perk allows you to do extra damage to enemies in rooms, but you then take 25% extra damage if fighting on the stairs. As it’s quite common to encounter enemies on the stairs, this seems more like a burden than a perk.
What I didn’t pay attention to in the first two play attempts was the experience level. After smashing a few mutants, I was told I had improved a level, and there was a blue upward arrow on the HUD. I didn’t think much more of this until the third playthrough and saw that I needed extra DEX to equip a weapon. What the hell? Where did this come from? However, spend two seconds of your time on the menu, and you’ll see there is an option to upgrade your chap.
There are four stats. The first is strength, the second is dexterity, third is speed, and the fourth is accuracy. I may have got the order the wrong way, but it doesn’t matter. Strength builds are always my preference, but in Skyhill, I opted for higher accuracy, and there are a few arse clenching moments whether you would survive a battle or not.
Go Work That Arse
Each time you move to a new room, you use a hunger point. I already said that I know. But if you head back, you continue to lose them. In terms of strategy, there are a few moments where you might feel underpowered, or maybe your health is too low. You have the option to avoid a confrontation by heading back, or you’re lucky to have the chance to heal yourself or change your weapon. The moment you engage, though, you can’t head back. Or heal. If you die, back to the start for a new game. It’s procedurally generated rooms, by the way, so don’t get cocky.
Battles are simple, though. In a good way. Depending on the beast, you usually have three options. Each option has a chance to do a certain amount of damage to the enemy. The higher the damage, the lower the success rate – represented in percentage. So, at 90% you could do 10-15 damage, 75% 15-25 or 50% 30-40 damage. The greater the damage, the less likely you’ll connect. Hence why I upped my accuracy. It’s not complicated as it’s mostly chance, but you can vary things up.
In my earlier plays, I felt the VIP room was a waste as I often found all that I needed, but say around the 60th floor or so, I kept heading back to craft new weapons or regain health. To get your health back, you use up your hunger. The quality of sleep is determined on how strong the door to your room is. Get invaded, and you lose health. In this scenario, you just upgrade your door by collecting and combining items. Aside from weapons, food recipes and sleep, you can also upgrade your bed for better quality sleep, your range of recipes and the number of weapons available to you.
There’s a good variety of enemies whose health increases as well as their hit power the further you go down. It’s definitely doable, pending you continually upgrade and have enough health, but the thing that really peed on my chips was getting poisoned. Poison takes off one point of health and hunger during each move. At first, I thought it was a debuff that would wear off, but it doesn’t – you need an antidote. To make an antidote, you need antibiotics and mutant blood. The latter is like phone numbers in a toilet, but in the playthrough where I first beat the game, I had antibiotics three times. The first time I used them was because I needed health, and the other two were to cure the poison. It was a pain in the arse and made the game more of a challenge when it already was.
But, I did get to the end, and without giving any spoilers, I was a little disappointed with the ending in Skyhill. It felt like there was more to it, so I’ve started again but on hardcore, hoping to unlock a new ending. The only reason I’m trying is there’s a page in the main menu that shows what sequences you have unlocked and some of mine remain locked. Is there a secret ending or maybe I wasn’t supposed to leave the building and wait for help?
On that basis, there’s more playthrough there. Even if it’s just to die some more to unlock some new perks. I’ve gone through this review without mentioning that god-awful term, but this is a rogue-like. They’re everywhere, but this is a good one and from my perspective, well worth your time.
Stairway to Hell
There isn’t much variety in the game as it’s literally ‘go downstairs, explore some rooms, fight off a mutant and then repeat’. Doesn’t sound any good, but really – this was enjoyable, and I keep coming back to it, even if it’s to see yuppy Shaun get a little bit of red on him. Overall, a good Nintendo eShop game and worth a play. Or two.
Disclaimer: I don’t know if our friend Shaun could realistically fight his way through 100 floors of mutants. It’s tiring in itself, but that’s a lot of stairs. The highest place I’ve been in (without using a lift) was probably 20 or so floors, and that was a ballache.
Sure, I’ve been up mountains and been in planes, but most of the time, filling my pants. If I saw what was going on in the world outside as in Skyhill, I would have remained in the VIP room and just kept pinging room service. With that all in mind, I’ve stayed in hotels many, many times. I am therefore an authority on whether this is any good. It is.