On paper, Crossing Souls sounds like it was designed for me. Retro aesthetic, superb music, an engaging story coupled with interesting, well-realised characters, and a responsive control system that includes enough depth to the combat that you’ll be experimenting throughout. It’s one of the first big indie releases out the door this year, and you need to be paying attention.
Set in the 80s, this is another pastiche of the times when VHS and tape cassettes were en-vogue. Before you start yawning, the developers never lean into it any more than the fact it’s set in that period, and the collectibles are jokey piss-takes based on popular figures or products during the time.
You play as five youths, all with distinct skills and personalities that are somehow an unlikely group of friends. I don’t want to spoil too much, but after finding a corpse in the woods, the gang’s world is turned upside down thanks to finding the “Duat”, a mystical object that lets the holder see into the other world and chat to (and fight) ghostly apparitions of people who’ve gone before them.
This is all done via a tap of the R2 button (PS4), and while initially it seems a mechanic to let you learn about people, it quickly becomes a Puzzle solving solution, because things in the ghost realm don’t appear in the real world, and thus allows for some excellent riddles that need solving. Eventually this progresses further, allowing you to control a ghost version of one of your gang while also still controlling the living, meaning you can go step on a ghost-floor-switch to enable the alive people to progress further.
At any time you can switch between characters at the tap of a button, and each of them have unique abilities. Chris swings a baseball bat and can climb (he’s the Mr. Average of the group), while Matt can shoot a plasma gun and hover for a short time over gaps. Biggy can move large objects and has a bigger health pool (and is general stronger) while Charlie can phase-blink-dash across gaps or to evade people, while swinging her whip. Kevin, Chris’ younger brother, can fart, blow up a balloon, or pull a greenie out of his nose. Yeah.
Combined, these elements make for some truly wonderful puzzle solving outside of the combat. You might be stumped for a while before realising that “Oh yeah, Matt can hover, right?” meaning you can get around objects in the top-down 2D world that let you carry on moving forward. Aside from one puzzle that everyone will get stumped on (solution: second row down, far left) they are intuitive and make you feel clever, which is an example of the very best kind of puzzle.
The combat feels great, and is kept fresh by the way the party system works. Initially you’ll be able to select all five characters, but as the game progresses this is switched up due to story beats which make things more difficult and force you to think differently. You can use health packs, bombs, and a kind of stun grenade (which you will definitely need later on) to give you the edge, and bar a few very late Boss Battles, it’s never too taxing.
On that note, here’s hoping a checkpoint is patched into the final release. As someone who doesn’t mind tricky battles, I’ve no problem trying something a few times, but three battles on the trot with no checkpoint and no health pickups is a bit much. It’s a blot on an otherwise exemplary example of an engaging, well designed game.
Other than that, there’s very little to complain about. The dialogue is well written and feels appropriate for the gang. The puzzles are fun, the combat is enjoyable, and it feels the right length. This is a game that doesn’t use its retro inspired nature as a selling point, it just feels right, and with nods to so many things we love (a few boss battles are straight up homages to Ghostbusters), it’s hard not to love Crossing Souls.
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