In 2014, Devolver Digital announced a Kickstarter campaign for a retro action-adventure game called Crossing Souls. The renowned Texas-native publisher has served up multiple hits like Hotline Miami, Shadow Warrior, and Broforce. This time around, they’ve collaborated with Spanish indie developer Fourattic to bring Crossing Souls to life. The game, which is about friendship and the coexistence of life and death, came out last February.
Set in the year 1986, Crossing Souls takes us across (no pun intended) a small Californian town called Tajunga. The story follows five young best friends on their two-dimensional adventure after a horrifying storm takes place. Blue-haired Chris is the short-range baseball bat swinger and leader of the group. Hat-clad Kevin is Chris’ troublesome younger brother. Blonde Matt sets an example for blonds by being a genius with a long-range laser gun, a jetpack, and an unsurpassed love for science. Sloppy yet tough, Big Joe is a practitioner of hand-to-hand combat and enjoys heavy-lifting. Redheaded Charlie is a strong, independent female who’s fast on her feet. She whips anyone that presses her buttons within her radius.
One day, Kevin reveals to his friends that he found a dead body by the lake. They investigate it to discover a pink, pyramid-shaped stone known as the Duat. Literally, Duat translates to the realm of the dead in Ancient Egyptian mythology. In the game, the Duat is a key to another dimension that recharges by draining energy, even if it means taking a life. Once the fragment feeds off a soul, it’s transported to the dimension of the dead. You can imagine how coming across a stone like that can change the lives of five kids in the 1980s. Once they discover they can make contact with the dead using the Duat, they are constantly on the run. They fight their way through both living and dead enemies, in order to prevent the stone from falling into the wrong hands of the power-crazed archenemy, Major Oh Rus.
In Crossing Souls, all five characters are playable. Without spoiling anything, they are interchangeably playable – with up to two characters simultaneously. Both the mechanics and controls are quite simple. What makes the gameplay challenging are specific in-game elements like the availability of checkpoints, as well as rarity of resources. In order to save your progress, you need to play through the chapters enough until you reach the floppy disk checkpoints.
The gap between one save game checkpoint and the next increases the more you play through the game. The more you have to play, the more likely you’ll lose all your health. Keep in mind that the need for health refill items increases while they become rarer. Speaking of items, you can store collected health-regenerating candies, blinding flashes, and time bombs in your inventory. There are also scattered documents, VHS tapes, game cartridges, and cassette tapes for you to look for. From “POWNG” to “Trek Wars VI”, references in Crossing Souls made one nostalgic about the 1980s.
What gave Crossing Souls an RPG feel is the enemy health bars. The enemies you face throughout the game can be alive or dead; where they range from gang thugs to possessed entities. The same applies to bosses, from cursed souls to the living henchmen of Major Oh Rus. However, despite the presence of patterns within boss fights, the developers didn’t hold back from getting creative with them. They were also quite smart with balancing the alternation between enemy encounters, puzzles, and boss fights. Each boss would be at a new location, with a different level design, as well as different tactics needed to defeat them. This prevented the game from becoming monotone, keeping the experience refreshing and engaging.
What’s frustrating about the gameplay experience, however, is the bugs. There were a couple of bugs that made me question how the testers missed them. For instance, sometimes the playable character would get stuck in a vacant, out of bounds zone of the map. Another bug caused the playable character to be spontaneously immobile in any direction, where it would only twirl around itself. To get rid of these bugs, you have to exit and reload the game. This could respawn you to an even earlier checkpoint if you didn’t save the game around the time of the bug’s occurrence. Considering that the game saves get rarer the further you get into Crossing Souls, the additional burden of said bugs was quite disappointing.
The first thing about Crossing Souls that catches your eye is the art. For a pixel art game, it’s gorgeous, and fans of old school video games could confirm that. Details such as shading and lighting were well-rendered for a retro game like this one. The UI and HUD designs are also quite friendly and organized. The designers weren’t restrictive; they made sure the characters convey emotion through their limited pixels. As for the map and location designs, they were splendid. There were over 10 locations in-game – including Tajunga’s suburbs, school, cemetery, library, diner, as well as others beyond the town’s habitable borders.
This game did not feature any voice-over, and instead used a dialogue box system to deliver the narrative. If you’re not a fan of reading, or if you die and respawn at a point with previously read dialogue, just keep pressing X to skip it all. The dialogue, however, was well-written; you could smirk at some humorous remarks, and feel a little sad when needed. The sound effects built the ambiance for the various in-game environments. Adequate sounds, like the chirping of birds or echoing of thunder, set the mood for each level perfectly.
As for the music, it was exquisite. German composer Chris Köbke and Electronica artist Timecop1983 composed the original soundtrack for Crossing Souls. The main menu of the game had no music. Thus, upon starting the game, you wouldn’t really know what to expect. But once you hear the orchestral-sounding and synth-pop tracks, they grow on you. Though reminiscent of 80’s classics’ soundtracks, like those of Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, the original soundtrack for Crossing Souls stands out for its authenticity and expressiveness.
Crossing Souls represented the fusion of the 80s with mythology quite seamlessly. Fourattic have paid a loving tribute to the decade of Walkmans, Ataris, and high-concept films. With gameplay that rarely bores, and a story that puts a spotlight on friendship, Crossing Souls has proven itself to be a very impressive debut for Fourattic. This eight-chapter game has replay value due to the availability of collectibles and trophies you might miss on the first playthrough. So, if you love the 1980s, were born then, or are just obsessed with Netflix’s Stranger Things, you might find this game quite enjoyable for $14.99.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Stand by Me, but playable and with a twist
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Plot - 8/10
Design - 9/10
+ Set in the coolest decade of all time
+ Vibrant retro graphics
+ Gradually challenging and refreshing gameplay
+ Brilliant soundtrack and sound design
+ Intricate level design
– Bugs, ughhhh…
– Dialogue boxes aren’t for everyone, some could miss out on the story because of too much dialogue-skipping