Crossing Souls is a game where it feels like more care went into the marketing of the game, rather than the game itself. I say that because before I played the game, I was hyped. The cutscenes were shown to have a nice cartoonish art-style, and the premise reminded me somewhat of Stranger Things. Unfortunately, neither of those hooks are given a chance to sink that deep as you play the game.
Crossing Souls is the story of five teenagers, and their struggle to save their small town from a ridiculously evil general, and his army of ghosts. It’s predictable and follows many of the tropes you would see in an 80s adventure film. In fact, certain sequences seem to copy aspects from many films: Racing to find a dead corpse in the first chapter (Stand By Me), and bicycling away from police off a cliff (The trophy is called “Eliot Style” for god’s sake). On top of this, the Saturday morning-cartoon visuals, which are everywhere in the marketing, are barely in the game at all. They’re restricted to cutscenes that only go on for a minute at most, with zero spoken dialogue.
The rest of the game is depicted in top-down pixel-art, with all dialogue being conveyed through silent text boxes. This takes away a huge amount of the impact that certain moments could have had. The writing itself is average, but it struggled to get me invested into the story at all. Additionally, the game is inconsistent tonally. The majority of the game is fairly bright, while only dipping its toes into more serious themes. But one section of the game suddenly starts showing ghost child soldiers, and makes a misguided attempt at adult humor. The game’s other attempts at humor are often annoying too. It overly relies on referential humor, that you would think would stick to the 80s. Unfortunately, the developers seem to throw references towards whatever they like.
Crossing Souls doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. For most of it, it’s a twin-stick shooter: but only two out of the five playable characters have ranged attacks. One time it decides it wants to be a side-scrolling brawler in the vein of something like Streets Of Rage. Most annoyingly however, it occasionally tries its hand at puzzle-platforming. These sections were the least polished. With the top-down view of the world, it’s surprisingly hard to judge distances. There were plenty of times where it seemed like I’d drop onto the platform, and I seemed to fall right through it. Later on, some platforms disappear and reappear in a rhythm. The problem is, often there are many different platforms near each other, with different rhythms and speeds. And they never ever sync up with the music. So what happens is you try to get yourself used to knowing one rhythm, whilst ignoring the music, and then force yourself to forget the previous rhythm in order to learn the new one. This is whilst you’re dealing with the infuriating lack of depth perception in a 2D top down-view. The game struggles whenever there’s rain too. As a result, the game seemed to not register some of my attacks in combat, making the game that much harder. On top of this, despite the fact that each character has their own health bar, if even one of them dies, it’s game over.
The game’s difficulty curve, as a result, is almost non-existent. It reads more like a mountain range, filled with cheap deaths and poor level design. Even the boss-fights are a mixed bag. Most, like “The Bus Driver” are insultingly easy. Others, like “Tackleberry & Zed” can be stupidly hard. What’s most frustrating however, is that any time you die, you have to mash the keyboard to skip all of the dialogue text-boxes before the boss fights one-by-one. Why not just reload me at the start of the actual fight?
Let’s talk about the music. Or rather, lack of music. The soundtrack will blend into one of two things: The background, or your ear-drums. When it’s the background, it’s because it’s so subtle you don’t notice it, which is fine. When it’s your ear-drums, it’ll be because you realise you’re listening to what feels like an incredibly small song on repeat, for long periods of time.
In the end, the game’s story is nothing to write home about, and the gameplay is as fun as hammering pins under your nails. Meanwhile the main hook of the game, it’s cartoon cut-scenes, are barely present throughout the game, and it’s heavy reliance on references are just plain annoying. As a result, I made it about two-thirds of the way through the game, before I depressingly realized the game was not going to improve.
Crossing Souls isn’t even a jack of all trades, let alone a master of none. It simply felt like time I would never get back.
Image Source: Crossing Souls’ official website.