Crossing Souls leverages the classics from the 80’s while telling a powerful tale of the space between life and death. The FingerGuns Review;
The 80’s are hot right now. Everything from TV and blockbuster Movies to the synth/funk-pop sounds cropping up in the music charts are borrowing from the amazing 1980’s to fill the present with near constant nostalgia. Gaming, of course, is not immune to this injection of 80’s and the next title to take its inspiration from the era comes in the shape of Crossing Souls from developers Fourattic and publishers Devolver Digital. The difference here is that while Crossing Souls is dripping in call backs to the time of pastel suits, bustin’ ghosts and time traveling Delorean’s, it’s not just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, remastering the classics with a healthy dose of originality.
Crossing Souls is the story of 5 youngsters – baseball bat wielding leader Chris, his adventurous little brother Kevin, boy genius Matt, the strong and dependable Big Joe and the kick-ass Charlie – set in a pleasant Californian town during the summer holidays. The first 3 hours of the game are like a cross between a supernatural Goonies and Stand With Me – while out adventuring the gang find a dead body and with it, a mysterious device called the Duat. With a bit of tinkering, scientist Matt discovers that this pyramid shaped device has the power to give its user the ability to see into the space between life and death – but without careful use, it comes with a heavy price. Meanwhile, the menacing protagonist General Rus Oh and his army of minions want to use the Duat for their own nefarious plan and will do anything he can to get his hands on it. The story is drip fed through text chats on screen that contain the occasional snippet of necessary and relatively painless exposition and cutscenes that carry the art style of the 80’s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon complete with VHS effects.
To say more would be to spoil what is an excellent, well paced, powerful and truly original story which is surprisingly emotional and impactful from beginning to end. It’s a plot that flips from absurd light hearted 80’s nostalgia to upper-cutting you right in the heart, pulling you to your feet, dusting you off and then pulling the rug from under you again. I’ll admit, my lip wobbled a hand-full of times during the games ~9 hour duration.
Crossing Souls presents itself much like the 2D pixel orthogonal RPG’s of the 80’s, riffing on the classics such as the early Dragons Quest and Final Fantasy games. The difference here is that the pixelart is astonishingly good throughout, leaps and bounds above their 30-year-old counterparts. From the highly detailed character designs and fluid animation to the bright, often contrasting colour pallets that bring the Californian town to life, the art in Crossing Souls is world class. There’s depth to the visuals too – at times there’s back/foreground objects out of focus which move independently from the main plane of view. This gives a real sense of a larger world scope outside of what you can interact with. The game has been smartly designed around the orthogonal viewpoint too (a projection method that is rarely used these days as many developers opt for a perspective or isometric top down view) with the vast majority of entry/exits clearly signposted or with intuitive visual clues to indicate the way forward. The only drawbacks to this projection type is that it can be limiting. On one occasion, the path of progression sent me backward towards the screen and the platform I needed to jump towards didn’t look like a platform at all. It was only by chance that I jumped in the correct direction after 10 minutes of scratching my head, confused as to where to go. One 2 other occasions, in sections where I needed to defeat a wave of enemies before moving forward, I’d bashed a flaming skull enemy out of view and it’d got caught on part of the environment. It was only after some exploratory bat swinging did I find the little blighter hiding in a corner in order to proceed. Those small issues aside, Crossing Souls is a visual delight.
While the game might look like a classic 2D RPG, Crossing Souls plays more like a top down twin stick shooter. At any one time you can control one of the 5 members of the gang, each of which has their own strengths and weaknesses. Chris can jump, climb vines and ladders and can knock back projectiles with his baseball bat. Wizkid Matt has a laser gun with an automatic tracking system which he can fire in a full 360 degree arc, can glide with jet boots for short distances and he also has the technical knowhow to deal with any of the sci-fi machinery you might come across. Big Joe can’t jump and moves slower than the others but he has more health, does massive damage with his punches and can move large obstacles that no one else can. Charlie whips it real good with a mid-range attack and has a pretty awesome dash to get out of trouble quickly. Lastly, there’s Kevin. Kevin doesn’t have an attack. He has no special abilities. He’s little more than a sidekick at the start of the game – but before long, he develops unique abilities and becomes one of the most integral members in the group. Choosing which character to use at any one time often changes the way a section of the game feels and at times, is integral to progression. There are moments when the game throws platforming at you that requires a combination the athleticism of Chris and the glide of Matt and you’ll be switching between the two on the fly in order to get across deadly obstacles.
Like any good 80’s inspired game, Crossing Souls has a number of boss fights. These always signify a spike in difficulty and require a little trial and error but they always utilise the skills that you’ve had tested by the previous gameplay section so don’t ever feel insurmountable. Unlike many games that have this structure, you don’t unlock new skills or equipment to use which culminate in a boss fight. Instead, Crossing Souls tests you to explore the abilities that each character started with in new and more challenging ways.
At several junctures of the game, Crossing Souls really goes to town on the 80’s revival by expanding into other game genres famous from the era. There’s a section that might as well be a Warriors inspired version of Streets of Rage, a surprisingly difficult Shoot-’em-up section, a whole sequence that has this awesome early point-and-click mystery vibe to it, a few rapid press sections that offer the kind of thumb ache you could only get from Track & Field and a hand full of puzzles that are complex enough for me to need to get out some paper and a pen to write things down. These aren’t just tacked on extras. They’re seamless inclusions in a package rammed with quality in every type of mode it dares to tread in.
It’s also worth mentioning that the soundtrack to Crossing Souls is sublime. There’s a family adventure movie vibe to it with nods to ET, the synth tracks from Flight of the Navigator and one particular piano track that’s simply beautiful. Composer Chris Köbke has obviously thrown everything he has at this soundtrack and it complements the gameplay flawlessly.
On the surface, Crossing Souls does look like a nostalgia driven piece that’s steeped in 80’s pop culture and it’s true, the game is jam packed with cheeky nods to Poltergeist, Michael Jackson, Back to the Future and much more. Crossing Souls is more than just a love letter to the past through. The mechanics might be based on the past but they’re as fresh today as they were back in their hayday, working how we remember them through rose tinted glasses, not how they actually were. The stunning pixel art style is confidently implemented alongside the technical knowhow to design a game in the orthogonal projection view with only a few minor hiccups. The story is unique and moving, breaking with convention before the credits roll for added emotional effect which might not land for everyone but certainly hit the mark for me. If you’re a child of the 80’s or simply want a well crafted adventure game, there’s a lot to love in Crossing Souls.
Crossing Souls is available now on the PS4 (reviewed on base PS4), PC and Mac.
Publishers: Devolver Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we recived a review code from the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.