by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Saturday morning cartoons
As a kid in the 80’s, I looked forward to waking up on the weekend to watch the Saturday morning cartoons whilst eating a bowlful of whichever cereal was in the cupboard. It was a time where I had not a care in the world... no mortgage, no bills to pay and certainly no kids to worry about. Crossing Souls takes us back to a similar era, where the young characters just want to have some fun with their friends.
Crossing Souls takes place in a small Californian town, one where everyone knows practically everything about everyone. Similarly to the kids in the movie Stand by Me, after meeting up with his younger brother Kevin, the main character Chris and his friends set out to find a dead body Kevin has spotted in the woods. Upon finding the body, they notice that it is holding a pyramid device known as the Duat, which holds mysterious powers with the dead. It is at this point that their adventure escalates, as the Duat is the highly sought-after item of Major Oh Rus, a character set on conquering the world with it.
Like any good band of friends, each of the characters has their own particular strength. Chris is great at jumping and climbing and is adept at wielding a baseball bat. Matt is the brains of the group, and can use his electro-gun to turn objects on and off, as well as using his gravity boots to float across chasms. Big Joe is the heavy hitter of the gang, able to use his bulk to move objects that the others cannot. Charlene (or Charlie as the tomboy is better known as) has a skipping rope that she can wield like Indiana Jones’ whip. She can also use the springy rope as a catapult, launching herself across large divides. Individually their skills won’t get them far, but as a group and switching between the team members, puzzles can be solved allowing them to work their way through their journey and ward off any dangers.
Intertwined between the adventures of the gang are a number of fun mini-games. To go along with the 80’s theme, most of these mini-games come straight from the era. There is a boss level that uses the Simon memory game, an area that has a puzzle sliding game, and a BMX getaway game that reminded me of the NES game Excite Bike, as you jump over ramps and dodge obstacles. The mini-games do not detract from the story at all, and are incorporated perfectly into the narrative.
The game can be played with keyboard and mouse or, as the game suggests, a gamepad. I found that most of the time a keyboard and mouse were sufficient, but did find that the accuracy of a gamepad made the tougher segments of the game a tad easier. For the bulk of the game, it is just a matter of switching characters to perform their basic tasks, but as the game wears on and the difficulty ramps up, the gamepad makes things somewhat easier. This was never more evident than in the later combat sections.
Visually, Crossing Souls has the look of the old Sierra or LucasArts point-and-click titles, albeit in a semi-isometric setting. At times this top-down/isometric hybrid view can be frustrating, as I found myself falling off an edge that I thought was a wall. I also got my character stuck in one area behind a chair that I couldn’t move and had to restart from my previous save point. But apart from that small issue, the pixel-style visuals follow the 80’s retro theme perfectly. Also fitting the retro theme are the cut-scenes that are shown at various points within the story. These wonderfully animated cartoons continue the 80’s feel of the game with their grainy and pastel colours – think He-man and the Masters of the Universe, Fat Albert, Care Bears or even the animations from the video game Dragon’s Lair.
Dialogue (all written, none voiced) is a tad dull for the most part, which does let the narrative down. The overall story plays out well enough – although the ending does get a little weird – but could have used less back and forth between the playable characters. Conversations around "whose fault it was?" became dull after the second time the characters squabbled among themselves. And although the discussions for Major Oh Rus – who seems like a Darth Vader type of fellow – with his underlings are enjoyable, they are fairly predictable. Having to replay these conversations whenever I had to replay a section of the game was also frustrating.
There are plenty of references to 80’s TV shows and movies as well as to other video games, which certainly added a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour to the game. ET, Ghost Busters, Back to the Future and even games of the time such as Simon, Super Mario Bros and Pac-Man all get a mention. A character with a surprising resemblance to Prince (or, the artist formerly known as) even gets a run as a gang leader of the Purple Skulls. It is small touches such as this that add to the nostalgia for those of us who grew up around that time.
Fun retro gaming
Crossing Souls does so many things right. Sure, the story and the dialogue are a bit dull, but the game is fun to play, and had me wanting to move through to the completion of the tale. The mini-games are also fun and none of them feel as if they’ve been added as filler, but flow through nicely into the main game. The cartoon cut-scenes and the nods to 80’s pop-culture add further nostalgia to the pixelated visuals and digitised audio. For some nostalgic fun, don’t let Crossing Souls slip by.
Retro gameplay and fun mini-games
Stale dialogue... and all written