Review: Crossing Souls (Switch)

How much 80s nostalgia can you squeeze into one game?

By Andy Hoover. Posted 08/10/2018 07:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Fantastic soundtrack; great visuals and art direction; generally fun combat and exploration; solid ending
Poison Mushroom for...
Story has tonal problems; gameplay doesn't evolve enough; frustrating moments of sloppy design; maybe too much nostalgia.

In case you haven’t noticed the increased prevalence of neon colors and synth music, the ’80s are back in a big way. From shows like Stranger Things to almost every indie game made in the last decade, this generation of creators seem to be longing for the good old days of their youth! For some, this wave of nostalgia might be played out, but for others it is utter bliss; however, it’s not enough to single handily make something good or bad. Crossing Souls is yet another indie game following this well-traveled trail, though compared to many of its peers, it leans even more heavily on the ’80s inspirations, but the more important question is how does it actually fare as a game?

While the suburban setting might make Crossing Souls look somewhat unique, a few moments of playing will quickly reveal it as a fairly straightforward action-adventure game drawing ideas from the likes of early Zelda games or Secret of Mana. Early on, the game places a large emphasis on exploration as you go around town talking to the locals and solving tasks in the form of basic combat, simple puzzles, and quick fetch quests. A few hours in, the game proves much more linear as it moves you from area to area filled with enemies to fight, puzzles to solve, and even some light platforming. While this variety is appreciated, it doesn’t take long for you to realize all these elements are actually really shallow as the game stops building upon its basic foundation early on. The game attempts to spice things up with on-off mini-games that dip into other genres, but these too feel incredibly simple and end very quickly.

While the core gameplay might never evolve as much as it should, it does at least achieve a level of generally enjoyable competence with an inkling of creativity. The game revolves around a group of teenage friends who you control. You play as only one character at a time and each has their own unique attacks, movement speeds, and abilities that affect how they feel in combat and one purpose they serve in puzzle solving or platforming; Big Joe is the powerful tank and resident block pusher, nerdy Matt uses his homemade blaster for ranged attacks and his rocket shoes for hovering, Charlie has a quick dodge ability and lethal jump-rope whip, and so on. Realistically, the differences aren’t as impactful as they sound as most fights feel very similar and each character’s abilities are so well-defined that switching never fells as tactical as it should. Still, the basic action of progressing from challenge to challenge remains generally enjoyable.

The biggest gameplay issues are occasional spikes in difficulty caused by poor design rather than legitimately challenging ideas. For example, there is a puzzle that is very simple in concept and would have been a rewarding enough challenge were it not for the fact the developers literally forgot to communicate part of the challenge. Essentially, this makes it impossible to solve outside of random trial and error or looking it up online. Also, the platforming generally feels loose and poorly defined as what you see from the camera’s perspective and the level’s actual geometry don’t always seem to match. Finally, the boss fights, which offer the only real deviation from the game’s very standard combat, are very hit and miss. There are definitely some good fights to be had, but some feel very random in terms of gameplay and difficulty, though the worst offender has to be one near the end where the game suffers from massive amounts of slowdown that are otherwise absent from the vast majority of the game.

While the game’s gameplay and pixel art seem to draw more inspiration from the ’90s, the story and art direction are clearly drawing hard from the well of ’80s nostalgia. The group of teens you play as find themselves and their town wrapped up in an apocalyptic plot involving ancient magic and evil conspiracies, but the core concept and character dynamics are clearly inspired by ’80s films like Stand by Me and The Goonies. Of course Crossing Souls is also filled with a plethora of direct references, ranging from hidden collectibles based off classic movies, music, and games to a longer, drawn out sequence that’s an unapologetically obvious homage to Back to the Future III. Unfortunately, throughout much of the game, the nostalgia is layered on so thick that it’s borderline distracting at points, thus hindering the game from developing its own identity. However, that particular problem solves itself in the last third when the subplot about Egyptian mysticism suddenly jumps to the forefront, creating tonal whiplash. I have to give the game credit for its willingness to go surprisingly dark at times, but when we spend most of the game seeing our characters as the butts of nostalgia fueled jokes, it makes it somewhat hard to get too emotional for them when the plot suddenly decides to get serious. By the end of the game, the tone finally seems to straighten-out and deliver a worthwhile finale, but the path there is annoyingly choppy.

While the gameplay and story have problems with consistent quality, the look and sound of Crossing Souls are much more successful. The pixel graphics are used to create a colorful world with beautifully animated sprites. The world is filled with lots of great detail, including countless more ’80s references that actually do a good job of selling the time period and telling us more about the characters. The story is also given a little more flourish with several animated cutscenes that are meant to emulate the cartoons of the era, such as He-Man or GI Joe, and while the look isn’t perfect, it’s close enough and the addition of VHS scanlines is also appreciated. However, there is one exposition heavy scene that feels out of place compared to everything else in terms of style, sound, and editing.

The game’s sound design also helps reinforce the nostalgic love in a good way. The sound effects are fitting and well executed, but the music is truly great. Like much of the other ’80s inspired media out there, the game features some great synth-heavy music, but it actually goes beyond that with some truly epic tunes with a bigger, more orchestral feel. This stylistic choice helps reinforce the influence of big action and adventure movies of the time, not just the synth pop found on the radio. Altogether, it makes the soundtrack the game’s strongest point.

With Crossing Souls, it’s apparent the developers, Fourattic, were aiming for something more than a disposable piece of nostalgia: they wanted to create a grand adventure drawing inspiration from a wide variety of sources from across the ’80s. While the game is most certainly full of references to almost every conceivable bit of pop culture from the era, the game itself isn’t balanced well enough to truly stand on its own as a great game. The story takes a long time to really go in its own direction and the transition to its more emotional later parts is anything but smooth. Meanwhile, the gameplay tries to offer lots of variety but fails to truly develop its many ideas in a meaningful way while also occasionally feeling sloppy. However, these problems aren’t really enough to make the game bad; the core mechanics are perfectly competent and generally fun, the story is a little more solid by the end, and the music is genuinely great throughout. In other words, the adventure proves to be a fairly enjoyable one by the end, it just happens to be punctuated by moments of frustration throughout.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Log In 0 points Log in or register to grow your Ninja Score while interacting with our site.
Nintendojo's RSS Feeds

All Updates Podcast
News Comments
Like and follow usFacebookTwitter Friend Code Exchange + Game with Us Join the Team!