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It was the cutscenes that first drew me to Crossing Souls, and that’s not a statement I’ve ever uttered before. The Saturday morning cartoon feel and VHS filter had me intrigued from the start. There are quite a few indie titles which I have my eye on at the moment, but Crossing Souls is top of the pile. Luckily, it has a lot more to offer than cutscenes full of 80’s nostalgia.

Crossing Souls is an 80’s inspired indie puzzle platformer with beat ’em up style combat. You play as five different members of a close-knit group of friends, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Chris is a good all-rounder who can reflect projectiles and climb. Matt has an unwieldy laser gun and can cover large gaps. Joe is the strongest but lacks in agility, while Charlie is extremely fast but weaker against enemies. Finally, Kevin can reach places others can’t but lacks any attacks.

This is what makes Crossing Souls’ gameplay unique. You have to get used to changing up characters on the fly to best use their abilities. Some bosses actively encourage switching between characters to dodge and use attacks efficiently. It can take some figuring out, and you will die a fair bit. Sometimes, even the perspective can make it difficult to figure out what you can and cannot stand on. But, once you find the perfect technique to pulling boss battles off or mastering tricky platforming sections, it feels oh so good.

crossing souls screen

Pixel gameplay, VHS cutscenes.

Some aspects are pretty challenging, including difficult puzzles, challenging boss patterns, and tricky platforming sections. However, good knowledge of the characters and management of healing items will see you through. There are no set places to heal, so you’ll have to split the healing items you find along the way between your five characters. This can be difficult as well since the death of one character is a game over for all.

The challenging aspects of Crossing Souls make me want to compare it to Battletoads. It is of course in many ways nothing like Battletoads, so it’s not the perfect comparison but please hear me out. While you have infinite lives in Crossing Souls, it has many different sections of gameplay where trial and error are the key. There are vehicle sections, difficult platforming sections, and straight up puzzle parts. Each of these ramp up the difficulty in a fun way, and will put your memory to the test. Mastering these are some of the most pleasing parts of Crossing Souls.

The best part about the gameplay is that it connects you to the characters. Through their different abilities, you feel a unique affinity for each character. Whether it’s Joe besting foes in combat or Charlie speeding her way across the map, each character feels crucial. Whenever a tragedy befalls the group, you feel the loss yourself. This is helped by the absolutely charming character animations in Crossing Souls. Their tiny pixel bodies seem to have an animation for every emotion. The dialogue can feel cliché at times, but it fits in well with the 80’s nostalgia.

What I really loved about Crossing Souls was the music. It has those 80’s sounds which take you straight back to that era. It swells and mellows at all the right moments and hits the emotional beats of the story. Crossing Souls seems simple at first. But the further you get in, the more varied the gameplay and story becomes. I planned on just playing a couple of chapters before writing this preview. However, I ended up around halfway through before I could put down the controller.

crossing souls gameplay 1

Many different environments

Crossing Souls is the first game developed by a tiny independent development team. The high quality of first-time games coming out of indie studios recently is truly heartwarming, and Crossing Souls is no exception. It nails the genre with its charming art style in both gameplay and cutscenes and the perfect 80s soundtrack. The varied and unique gameplay challenges you to always change up your play style. This is truly one to watch for when you go back to the future.

This preview of Crossing Souls was written based off of the preview build on Steam which was provided by the publisher. For more information on Crossing Souls, you can read our interview with the developers, or wait for the full review closer to its release on Steam and PlayStation 4 on February 13th.


Georgina Young

Contributor

British girl, currently in Japan. Surviving on a diet of retro games. Worshiping the god that is the Sega Megadrive. I like Nintendo.