skullmonkeys1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Skullmonkeys for the Sony PlayStation, published by Electronic Arts and released in the United States in January 1998.]

Of clay monkeys and platforms.

Any game can possess a solid and original gameplay concept, but can fail due to a lack of care given by its developers. Take The Zombie vs. Ambulance, for instance -- a title which, despite its awesome premise, is rendered boring due to its generic presentation and instantly repetitive gameplay. The lesson to be learned by developers here is that in the absence of creativity or unique ideas, even a game about a zombie-killing ambulance can be unplayable.

Other games, on the other hand, may base themselves around a hackneyed concept, but contain fresh ideas that are executed so well that the end result is something truly remarkable. These games are made with a passion that extends beyond contractual obligation. They possess unnecessary amounts of charm, and exude a kind of polish that can only come from a team of people who genuinely want to make a great video game. Such is the case with Skullmonkeys.

skullmonkeys2.jpgLess clicky more hoppy.

As sequel to the point-and-click PC adventure title The Neverhood, Skullmonkeys defied expectations by being -- of all things -- a sidescrolling platformer. The game offers little variation on the platforming formula, and many of the genre's cliches are in full effect throughout. It's still a fun and very playable game regardless, but much of its gameplay will seem very familiar to fans of platforming titles.

It's the imaginative design that defined The Neverhood that makes Skullmonkeys into the noteworthy title it is, however. The characters are likeable, and a unique claymation style gives the game a look that separates it from other lowly PlayStation platformers like Punky Skunk and Johnny Bazookatone.

Most incredible of all, Skullmonkeys is often a very funny game, and intentionally so. This is most obviously apparent in the varied character animations and silly FMV sequences, but Skullmonkeys' soundtrack (composed by Terry Scott Taylor) is also exceptional in this aspect. The background music that plays during bonus rooms is perhaps what best exemplifies the game's bizarre sense of humor -- the track is a soothing acoustic lullaby, accompanied by the singing of a man who identifies himself as "your little invisible musical friend for life." To elaborate further would only be a disservice to the greatness of this song.

Joe-Head Joe in all his glory.Mad props to Ton Ton.

The humor becomes even more ridiculous at times, so much so that many of the game's stranger moments feel like inside jokes shared among the staff. One of the bosses, in fact, is nothing more than the gigantic digitized head of one of the Skullmonkeys' artists, propped up on a pair of legs. The game's available weaponry is pretty odd, too, ranging from exploding birds to a screen-clearing smart bomb called the "Universe Enema."

These playful touches show that Skullmonkeys was a labor of love, and effectively transform an otherwise nondescript platform hopper into a memorable experience full of charm and personality. The game may be relatively difficult to find today, but it's well worth tracking down.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]