Release Date: February 13, 2018
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4 (Played on Windows)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
It’s 1986, California, and five teenagers are about to embark on a life-changing journey. This is the setup for Crossing Souls, an action adventure game and first release from developer Fourattic. You take control of a group of five friends that you swap between to use their unique abilities as you explore the overworld. Crossing Souls has players fight, solve puzzles, and platform their way through various challenges on a mysterious journey to learn why the dead are re-entering the plain of the living.
One of the first standouts of Crossing Souls is the art. While not a masterclass in graphical features, many of the characters and world elements are animated expressively. The attention to detail that went into the characters shows and makes the game quite nice to look at. An extensive use of colour is also employed, giving individual elements enough contrast to pop out. If you’re not a fan of pixel art Crossing Souls won’t change your mind, but the various art components stand out.
On the topic of art, Crossing Souls also has excellent cutscenes. The cutscenes are all created to look like an 80’s cartoon, even including tears and blips on the screen. The aesthetic on display matches the theme of the game to a tee, even aping the cutaways that were seen in cartoons at the time. However, the greater accomplishment with the scenes is how and when they’re used. Cutscenes are almost entirely dedicated to illustrating action that would be too detailed to be clearly conveyed in pixel art. They are never overused, however, so they manage to highlight themselves from the rest of the game. The intelligent use of cutscenes, as well as the visual presentation, make what is normally one of my least favourite elements of a game into one I liked.
In keeping with thematically appropriate elements of Crossing Souls, I also enjoyed the soundtrack. The game features a synth score reminiscent of the time period of the story. Tunes that accentuate the current mood are frequently used, so tracks can range from upbeat and funky, to somber and reflective. There is also enough variety in it to keep it from getting repetitive, even though it has a sound from a bygone era.
Unfortunately, outside of its artistic elements, Crossing Souls falls short. A rather large emphasis is put on a mediocre story that drags the game down. The character writing is where the game is strongest, but some of the main cast doesn’t feel anywhere near as fleshed-out as other members. The lead character Chris feels complete compared to his four comrades, which makes moments where he is absent feel underwhelming. It’s hard to empathize with characters who aren’t built up before misfortune befalls them.
The lore elements of the story also feel somewhat misaligned. Most of the plot revolves around ancient Egyptian mythology, but the setting is California, which raises the questions into how exactly these two things came into contact. You also acquire various ancient relics throughout the game that, while having flavor text, do not attempt to answer this question. The lack of thought that went into the writing of the world, as well as the lack of character writing, let Crossing Souls down tremendously in the story department.
However, I would like to highlight that I appreciate the consistency in tone throughout the story. I’ve played many games where a darker tone is taken on for a subset of the story, only to have everything resolved in a triumphant final act. Crossing Souls doesn’t pull any punches and sticks to a darker tone. Some of the plot points are predictable, but the consistency in tone is a nice touch.
The other major problem I had with Crossing Souls stem from the parts where you’re playing the game. It feels like all of the game’s elements needed a bit more fine-tuning to achieve what the team was going for. Combat sections play out as a side-scrolling beat-em-up where you swap between characters using their unique attacks and abilities. This feels unnecessarily clunky as you’re only able to cycle through characters in one direction so switching to a specific character in the heat of the moment can be more challenging than it should be. Additionally, all of the characters feel a little stiff and unresponsive in combat due to the sprites being over-animated. While I like the animation, it shouldn’t come at the cost of how the game feels to play.
The puzzles in Crossing Souls are insultingly easy. While it isn’t a core feature of the game, puzzles make up some of the playtime between story events and I would have appreciated if more steps were required to solve them. As it stands, most of the puzzles can be solved in one or two steps, which doesn’t make them very engaging.
Crossing Souls also makes the mistake of trying to incorporate platforming in an isometric game. Most of the timed platforming can be taken at your own pace, which is appreciated as judging distance from an isometric perspective can only really be done by tracking the character’s shadow as they move through the air. The few times the game demands more from your platforming skills are some of the most frustrating in the game as you’re afforded little time to determine if you can make a jump. Thankfully, most of the platforms are wide and close together, so you have quite a bit of room for error. Between the combat, puzzles, and platforming Crossing Souls doesn’t manage to deliver a compelling experience on any of its gameplay elements, which makes a lot of the game drag on.
Finally, one minor gripe: spelling. Within the first hour of play, I noticed a few spelling mistakes, as well as some odd word choices for dialogue. I’m aware the team is not from an English speaking country, but in a game with a lot of text, it is essential to make sure your translation is done well. It’s only a minor gripe as problems only surface occasionally, but they always stood out when they did.
Overall Crossing Souls was a bit of a disappointment. The artistic flair the game opens with gives way to a lot of mediocrity in the story and gameplay department, which makes the game wane between mildly amusing and boring. With more time spent fleshing out all of the main cast, as well as smoothing the combat, and improving some of the puzzles I think it could have been a much better game.