Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Out Now
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, Linux
It seems like 80s-fuelled nostalgic adventures are all the rage right now, with shows like Stranger Things riding high on the buzz that started with things like E.T., Weird Science and The Goonies back in the good ol’ days. It’s only fair that video games get in on the action too really, which is exactly what Crossing Souls has done.
From Spanish developers Fourattic and published by the brilliant Devolver Devolver, Crossing Souls offers a wonderful little adventure through a pop-culture filled world that’s full of enemies to pummel, puzzles to solve and mysteries to uncover. Personally, I’ve been excited for it for a long time, so I’m glad to report that it’s a bloody great game.
Crossing Souls puts you in the shoes of Chris, Matt, Big Joe, Charlie, and Kevin; a gang of kids who see their lives change massively when they stumble upon a dead body. Don’t worry, it’s not going all ‘Stand by Me’ and just being a coming of age tale – this dead body just so happens to be holding a strange Gem called the ‘Duat’ that can be used to see the souls of the dead. Crazy, right?
Obviously, things start to go wrong for the gang when they use the Duat’s powers, and they find themselves pursued by a group of villains who want to use the Duat for nefarious means. It’s up to the gang to stop them, all whilst helping (and battling) the countless souls they encounter along the way. It’s all very Saturday Morning Cartoon-like in the overall feel of the game (and the look of the brief cutscenes), but it works well to offer an enjoyable little adventure that’s both zany and heartfelt at the same time.
If you’re an 80s kid or got a love for 80s pop culture, you’re going to love all of the little easter eggs littered throughout Crossing Souls. It’s a love letter to the decade, with parodies of the movies, video games, and musicians to be found around every corner (they’re even available in the form of collectibles). There’s even slightly less subtle references to be found, such as the house that’s having a pool built over an Indian Burial Ground and thus finds itself full of Poltergeist-like hauntings (and even a creepy kid staring at the static on a TV). Hell, one of the boss battles itself feels like it’s been lifted directly from Ghostbusters 2…
Don’t take this as a complaint though – in fact, I absolutely love it. I’m only barely a child of the 80s myself, but I’ve got an affinity for everything associated with it. The fact that Crossing Souls completely embraces this just made me enjoy the game a whole lot more.
One of the core features of Crossing Souls is found within its character swapping mechanic – you’re never forced to just play as one member of the gang, but can instead swap between them all with a quick button press. It plays like the classic game The Lost Vikings in a way, with each character having their own specific skills: Chris had a bat that can hit projectiles away and can climb obstacles, Matt can shoot projectiles and hover between platforms, Charlie has a quick dash and can leap across huge gaps like a slingshot, Big Joe is strong with his attacks and can push objects around, whilst Kevin can… erm… flick snot around. Don’t worry about Kevin too much, he becomes a lot more useful as the game progresses…
A lot of your time in Crossing Souls will be spent platforming and solving puzzles, so you’ll really have to put each character’s abilities to good use if you want to see your adventure through to the end. Most of the puzzles are fairly obvious, though some will have you scratching your head as you figure out how to best use each character’s skills to make your way past a tricky enigma. Some puzzles don’t even require any character’s skills at all, but instead force the player to think a bit or take down some notes (an early puzzle that requires you to memorise a password is a good example of this). Whatever little headscratcher you’re facing in the game though, you’ll never feel frustrated or like you can’t solve it – Crossing Souls certainly prioritises fun over punishing its players with a harsh difficulty.
Admittedly, the combat side of Crossing Souls could be a little underwhelming at times. It’s not that it’s necessarily bad per se, but rather that it’s a bit unimaginative and falls into button bashing territory. The game does try to spice things up by throwing in the occasional gadget to use, but for the most part you’ll be spamming your attacks against a myriad of different easy-to-beat enemies.
The boss battles on the other hand are much more creative and demand some clever thinking from the player. You’ll be constantly swapping between the members of your gang as you carefully master each boss’ attack patterns and identify their weaknesses. For example, the first big boss battle sees you using Chris’ batting skills to smash away projectiles, Matt’s energy gun to turn off the power, and Big Joe’s strength to remove some generators – there’s certainly a bit of thinking to each battle and you’ve got to act quick. They’re good fun, and felt just like the brilliant boss battles that were a part of some of the 16-bit classics of yesteryear.
So you’ve got plenty to work through with the puzzling and combat, but Crossing Souls is also home to a few little mini-games too. My personal favourite was the scene where you escape from pursuers on your bike, which I loved for two reasons: one, it felt just like a scene that had been lifted straight from E.T., and two, it also feels exactly like the magic carpet mini-game from the Mega Drive version of Aladdin. Two good reasons to love a mini-game, right?
Besides offering plenty of enjoyment with its gameplay, Crossing Souls is also a pretty game to look at. It’s got retro pixel-art visuals, which I know is something that’s started to seem a bit overused within gaming, but somehow feels all the more fitting giving that almost the entirety of the game is a throwback itself. I personally had a lot of fun exploring the game’s beautiful little world, whether it be when dashing through the arcade, exploring the suburban town, or facing the many mystical sights that come hand-in-hand with the powers of the Duat…
Oh, it’s worth mentioning that the music is absolutely on point too. There’s a good mixture of 16-bit video game-y pieces (you know what I mean) along with the synth-fuelled symphonies that belong in the 80s. Everything helps set the scene perfectly, and you’ll happily find yourself humming along with the chorus of tunes that orchestrate your adventure.
Crossing Souls is a really fun game to play, but there’s no denying that a lot of its appeal comes from its constant pop culture references. The gameplay and design is enjoyable in it itself, but there’s nothing there that you wouldn’t have seen before elsewhere – the finishing touches that make it all the more delightful come from the throwbacks that the sound, visual style, and 80s references offer. The game definitely knows who it’s trying to appeal to, and if you’re a sucker for it (just like I am) then you’ll certainly appreciate the whole experience a hell of a lot more than anyone else.
I love Crossing Souls. Everything about it just resonates with me, whether it’s the 80s vibe, the puzzle-platforming, the slick little story, or just the cool boss fights. It’s a hell of a lot of fun to play, and if I’m being honest, I was a little sad when I reached the ending and it was all over.
Still, there’s no denying that you’ll enjoy Crossing Souls a lot more if you get all of the references it makes. Recognising those moments where the game is referring to some of your favourite movies or video games is great fun and always brought a smile to my face, so I can appreciate that the experience might not be as appealing for those who don’t get to enjoy that side of it.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a fun little adventure behind it all that puts plenty of neat gameplay ideas together into a great little package though. If you’re an 80s kid or a fan of everything it brought, you need to buy Crossing Souls now. On the flip-side, if you can appreciate a charming and vibrant little adventure that prioritises fun, you need to buy Crossing Souls too.
You know what? Just buy Crossing Souls – you won’t regret it.