Crossing Souls is yet another Kickstarter success story – these seem to be on a roll this month! Raising $51k out of a $45k goal, Fourattic has teamed up with Devolver Digital to bring their game to PC and PS4 (with a possible PS Vita version coming in the future if the Kickstarter project is to be believed). Crossing souls is a game built around 80’s pop culture, nostalgia trips and recognisable stories and moments – which is great for people like myself who have a lot of nostalgia for that period.
The question here is, is there enough to draw in people without the same history of nostalgia for the time and is the game actually a good one? Come with me as I jump into my Delorean and crank my speed up to 88mph as I travel back to 1986, California and see what Crossing Souls is all about…
The story of Crossing Souls will sound very familiar to anyone who has watched 80’s coming of age films like Stand By Me and The Goonies, the game revolves around a group of five kids who are all from different backgrounds who discover a dead body in their local forest (however these guys didn’t film it and stick it on YouTube for views). They set out to investigate this strange, exciting occurrence only to find that the body is in possession of a strange pyramid-shaped device. Matt, the nerdy scientist of the group, takes the stone and begins to experiment with it in order to find out what it is and where it came from. Due to Matt being pretty much a genius, he is able to create a device which harnesses the unusual object’s powers – powers which turn out to be the ability to see and interact with the spirits of the dead!
However, Former U.S. Army general Colonel Beringer, better known as Major Oh Russ, gets wind of this and decided to intercept in order to retrieve the stone. Major Oh Russ has been looking for the stone since it’s discovery in 1945 by Dr. Carter Jones (the body the children found). The Major won’t engage directly though as he sends out his minions in order to try and retrieve the artifact, a process which won turn out to be the best decision as the story unfolds. Now, all five children begin their crazy adventure as they aim to uncover the truth behind the stone’s power and must move on – regardless of what happens along the way. Every step of the way, the Major’s minions are always close by as they aim to recover the stone so the Major can control the dead and take over the world – it’s up to you to ensure this never happens.
Throughout Crossing Souls, you will be controlling all five of the kids as you swap between them with the trigger buttons. The game revolves around puzzles and action with a little platforming thrown in – with a top-down view, which can get a bit unusual in areas with buildings due to the perspective. You will be jumping, pulling, pushing and even flying across the landscape. You don’t pick up and items so this is where the multiple children come into play – they each have their own stereotypical strengths and weaknesses, some of which mirror characters from 80’s pop culture. The main protagonist is Chris, he is your basic 80’s jock who attacks with a baseball bat (which can also repel certain projectiles) and has the ability to jump, Matt is your nerd-like genius who has rocket boots and a laser gun (because nerd), ‘Big’ Joe is a big guy who can move large objects and has increased attack and defensive properties, Charlie is basically Beverly Marsh from IT (even has the abusive father) who can project herself over large distances with a skipping rope, and Kevin (which is Chris’ younger brother) who can pick his nose and fart…
Unlike 80’s video games, TMNT – I’m looking at you, each character has their own health bars so swapping between them mid-fight will effectively give you a new health bar. However, if one of you dies, then it’s game over. Each enemy seems to have their own strengths and weaknesses against certain characters – for example, if you shoot certain enemies with Matt’s laser gun then it results in an instant death, yet other enemies are weaker against Chris’ baseball bat (or the projectiles it repels). So, more often than not, you will be juggling between all of the characters available in order to find the right one for the job. As mentioned above, what you have at the beginning of the game is what you have at the final showdown – apart from a few changes which I won’t spoil for you. But in terms of attacks – get used to it as there are no pick-ups, no level ups, no alternatives and no new characters.
As well as the sometimes challenging combat segments (especially the bosses), Crossing Souls has quite a lot of environmental puzzles. Some are quite easily such as using one character to flip switches whilst the others move on, moving large crates around or even just hitting certain objects – yet some are pretty well done like finding a secret passcode which is in parts, hovering over pits without falling in, crossing into the spirit world in order to activate things you can’t usually see and even using one character to platform around to find diagrams which Joe uses to push blocks into a certain pattern. The platforming segments are a bit fiddly due to the perspective – if the game was isometric then it would have been easier, but it’s more akin to Pokemon red/blue style where you are more like looking down at everything from the 6 o’clock pose. You do get the feeling of satisfaction once you work out some of the later puzzles though.
One of the things I didn’t like in Crossing Souls was the boss fights. In particular – the final one. Up until that point, the battles weren’t hard – it was a case of playing through them, working out what the strategy of the boss was (It’s based on 80’s mechanics, so everything has a pattern) and maybe playing through it a few times until you finally overcome the enemy and take them out. The final one, however… It wouldn’t be an issue if you could restart the boss battle at the actual fight, but you don’t – you start before the cutscene, which takes about 2-3 mins before you can try again. I would have loved it if it just dropped you right there, or at least gave you the chance to skip the cutscene (which it doesn’t).
Crossing Souls also offers a wide selection of gameplay styles. There are moments where you will be riding horizontally on your bike as you get away from the police whilst avoiding obstacles and jumping ramps in an ‘Excitebike’ style. You also have a segment which is basically a top-down flying shoot-em-up which was really fun. Throughout these alternative modes, you can see the influences from 80’s film and game media present – even the trophy you get when you ride your bike off the cliff and past the moon references the movie it came from!
In terms of the characters – other than the stereotypical traits of our main protagonists, we don’t really know that much about them. To me, this feels like a missed opportunity here as throughout the story certain things will happen which would have had a bigger impact if we were more attached to each of the characters. The game is very fast paced, so before we know it, the town is being closed off E.T. style as the government is looking for the stone – something which restricts us from exploring and talking to people now – thus missing a lot of interactions and backstories. Another thing which may annoy people but I found quite brave and true to the time (in regards to media in the 80’s) is the type-casted NPCs. You will see an elderly Asian man in charge of an ancient antique shop (Gremlins), a nerdy guy in charge of the Comic book shop, and a load of rednecks who live in the nearby trailer park (one even bathes in the back of his van).
Visually, Crossing Souls is yet another pixel art-style game – as you can see in the images. I’ve made it clear in a few of my reviews that these aren’t the most appealing to myself as I feel this style of graphics is too common for smaller indie titles. However, I have also said that I make a few exceptions and Crossing Souls is one of them. Due to the fact, the game is based in 1986 and it literally bursting with 80’s references, the art direction kinda makes sense. The game looks in the vein of classics such as the original Monkey Island, The Dig and other Lucas Games SCUMM titles. Yet the game contains verbal and visual nods to everything from Ghostbusters, Nintendo (the guy has an NES in his bedroom), Stephen King, Metal gear, all the way to Breaking Bad and Half-Life.
To top it off, the cutscenes in the game are beautiful – they are all animated short clips which play like an 80’s cartoon such as He-Man or the TMNT. These really stood out for me as I wasn’t aware they would be in the game before I picked it up and it instantly brought back the nostalgia of Saturday morning TV and are a welcomed break from the pixel art graphics of the main game. Similarly, the soundtrack is good – the music that’s in the game is very subtle and it relies more on ambient sounds and noises instead – but it really helps in certain situations to build the tension and makes the scene feel more involved.
Crossing souls is a great little nostalgia trip back to the 80’s with a lot of references both in the story and randomly scattered around the place. The pixel art style of the game fits the game for the most part with the cutscenes being the stand-out feature for me. The puzzles are great and some really get you thinking, but the combat does get a tad annoying as you approach the final boss due to the time it takes to get back into the action when you lose. I had a lot of fun playing the game and if you stick with it, explore and interact with everyone and everything you see then I’m sure you will have as much fun as I did.
- Varied gameplay mechanics with nods to 80's games
- Many, many nostalgic references, both old and new
- Decent puzzles which have you thinking
- The use of swapable characters is a fun mechanic
- Great cutscenes and music
- Boss battles are a bit hit-or-miss
- Unskippable in-game sequences
- Not much character development or history
- The story trails off a bit towards the end