Adventuring on a 2-D plane isn’t all that rare nowadays, or really ever. But when a game like Souldiers comes around, it’s time to perk up as it melds together a ton of great old and new ideas. It was a game I played during Steam Next Fest back in February, and the demo was a blast. Despite some frustrating shortfalls playing the review copy, the game was a fun and challenging action-adventure game I think many people will enjoy.
Caught In Between
Souldiers opens with one of the best cinematics I’ve seen in recent memory. A mix of anime and North American Saturday morning cartoons, it thrusts you into a world of armies, foes and enemies, and a fantastic art style. The story in the game is a little hard to follow at first; you’re fighting for your home when suddenly you are dragged into a place called Terragaya. There are Valkyries, mystical lands, a giant light beam that brings to a giant cave of spiders… all of it is interesting, but once the combat got going a few minutes later I found myself far more concerned with just surviving rather than why I was fighting in the first place.
This is not to say the writing and world-building aren’t well done, it was just more difficult for me to remember all the fine details because there’s so much time in between the story beats.
Before you jump into the aforementioned beam of light, you can choose to be a wizard, archer, or melee sword-wielding soldier. I tried all three and found most of my success with the archer. Likely not because it is “the best” but because it just felt right for me. Each class has different stats like damage, stamina, health, and mana. It’s hard to know right off the top what will work for you, but if you play for about 30 minutes and can’t get into the groove, I recommend starting a new save file and trying another.
Regardless of which character you are, fighting your way from left to right and back again is great. Souldiers does not hold your hand though, for better or for worse you’re going to be struck by the smallest enemy and wish you didn’t take them so lightly. Eventually, this feels manageable, but early on it takes a little too long to get into the groove and rhythm of the battles since you feel pretty underpowered.
As you adventure in caves, fields, forests, and castles, you’ll unlock a number of fun abilities that create more opportunities to eliminate your threats. There are also a ton of chests and crates to bash open to collect coins, health, and equipment that can boost your stats. All of this is also built around a Metroidvania system where traversing through worlds is not just as simple as moving to the next screen. The map is sprawling and once you unlock a fast travel ability, you could soon find yourself obsessed with finding that one elusive chest.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Souldiers includes some frustrating elements. Many of them stem from the fact that the feeling of being underpowered lasts for too long. It took me several hours to feel like even the smallest enemy couldn’t kick my butt. On top of that, the checkpoint system is sometimes unforgiving. I’d find myself making great progress with collecting items and even levelling up when suddenly I stumble upon a mini-boss that whoops me in less than 30 seconds. Now, everything I just did is wiped out. It’s not the greatest feeling and it happened to me more than a few times across numerous stages.
Despite that, I felt like pushing on and pressing forward. The gameplay is a blast; it’s difficult, fun, interesting, and never feels boring, and defeating many of the bosses is very rewarding as a result.
A Great Blend
I mentioned earlier that Souldiers was a great mix of old and new styles. That goes not only for the gameplay but the visuals and sound as well. It almost fooled me at first as I expected to play a SNES or Genesis style 2-D platformer because that’s how it looks and sounds on the surface. Under the hood though, it’s much more than that.
The art style helps make the fast-paced action pop. There are tons of beautifully pixelated texture effects mixed with great sound effects and catchy songs. Lighting is dynamic, the movement looks smooth, and colours pop from each and every pixel.
While there were times I felt too frustrated to continue, Souldiers still got its hooks in me. Some of the old-school decisions from the checkpoints to some of the fights may not be the best choices and may not work for everyone, but everything else around that is excellent.
It’s a tough adventure, but one worth fighting through. I found myself enjoying even the toughest challenges and traversals. Souldiers is tougher than it looks, but also more enjoyable the longer you stick with it.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]