Crossing Souls Review – Lacking the Latter
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: 13th February 2018
There will always be games, movies or other works imitating iconic styles, like Mary and the Witch´s Flower using the iconic Ghibli straightforward to deliver a movie the studio can´t. Sadly, it´s also one of the best recent examples of how to successfully cross everything on a list but lose the soul on the way of imitation. Similar to Stranger Things, Crossing Souls tries to deliver a fun homage to the 80s, just to suffer from this exact problem.
Naturally, Crossing Souls features five teenagers, who´re finding something extraordinary in their little town. This time, a pink jewel held by a corpse, which allowed them to see the wandering ghosts of dead people. Unfortunately, the intergalactic space russian wants his precious treasure back and so the group has to figure a way out of this mess.
A pretty classic set-up for such a plot, from which the classic formula can be expanded to create something entirely new. You could of course also just follow a checklist, implementing every cliché and ignore the progression of the last 30 years, that´s exactly what Crossing Souls does. The characters remain the flat sided clichés they are, no one really evolves, has a meaningful background or anything else making them more than just some people implemented because they had to. Even though it´s attempted at some points, the character traits tried to establish never are unique or interesting. After the 10 hours long story I still can´t properly remember any name, simply calling them after their main cliché.
Still, the story itself is even worse, lacking any kind of surprises. The main villains are your typical pack of evil russians, scared scientists and alike you´ve seen in dozens of other games. However, this time, they overshadow a pretty promising idea, the fact it´s possible to see ghosts. Instead of focusing how the teenagers confront the dead people in a serious, meaningful manner, most of it never really serves a purpose instead of giving the bad people a reason to be bad. For the potential the idea had, not even close to enough time is spent with actually pursuing it, rather focusing on a boring, redundant plot about youngsters beating up a Russian speaking overlord.
Naturally not all is bad about its story, the presentation, in particular, is simply amazing and responsible for a lot of the emotional impact. From the 80s cutscenes, presented to mimic the time to the vibrant, gorgeous pixel art. Fourattic can present some very solid story-telling mechanics, for example, when someone dies, Crossing Souls can present this emotional obstacle in an impacting way. Besides, the amount of detail put into the pixel art can easily surpass many recent games and impress solely by existing, giving the world a natural personality. If only the content would be equally as impressive.
Sadly, the problems don´t end here, since the before mentioned flatness even impacts the gameplay. Every one of the five characters is playable and offers unique abilities, from jetpack boots, a fast baseball bat, a slow but heavy hitting fist and alike. Similar to other games, Crossing Souls forces you to switch between them in order to progress jump´n run passages for example. The amount of switching required though is just too much, seemingly forcing the player every few minutes with repetitive jumping passages and the ever same obstacles. Nothing really feels natural, only forced upon you because it seemingly has to. Everything feels slow, time-consuming and, honestly, boring.
Most of the time only two characters are used for jumping puzzles and fighting, which work pretty well. There´s only a 3-hit combo for everyone but as a result, the combat focuses more on a straight forward approach, relying on well-timed dodges, tactic and skill. Given, the enemies often have just a bit too much health, making fighting tiresome at certain points but overall, an actual fun system, ditching all the complicated stuff for simple fun.
Still, Crossing Souls’ biggest problem is its huge cast of five playable persons that are never used to their fullest. Throughout the whole game, only Chris and Matt are required to complete it at many points. Jump and fight with Chris, fly over cliffs with Matt´s rocket boots, so why care about the other three? Because every 80s game needs a big group of teenagers, I can´t think of anything else. Using the same ones over and over again though isn´t much fun, even worse if you´re forced to do so.
Towards the end, things get even more complicated when the game tries to introduce new genre shifts and other mechanics to vary the flow. Unfortunately, when the base mechanics and design can´t even work together properly, how should they carry a whole new one? Unsurprisingly, those attempts remain unfinished, seemingly tucked on question marks without many contexts, merely reinforcing the weak gameplay design through their mediocrity. Combined with the high difficulty, ramping up to new heights without any reason, the last third may be the most ambitious but also most flawed one.
To conclude, is Crossing Souls a bad game? It has everything a good homage needs, from the gorgeous presentation to the cliché-y story but simply lacks this unique touch. In the end, it may not be a bad but unsurprising game, full of flaws, only able to copy previous masterpieces, yet not able to create its own.
[A Review Code was provided by Devolver Digital]