We cannot escape 80s nostalgia. It's on our TVs thanks to Stranger Things and The Goldbergs, in our films via Kung Fury and The Expendables, and in our music with the return of new wave sounds and Macross-inspired J-POP. Of course, our video games of recent years are also no stranger to the 1980s, thanks in part to titles like Hotline Miami, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and Retro City Rampage. But when it comes to the ultimate cake-taker for presenting this bygone era in pixelated form, no one holds a candle to Fourattic's Crossing Souls.
Originally funded via Kickstarter, Crossing Souls drops us into the year 1986, where a group of kids stumble on a dead body holding a strange artifact. This artifact gives the friends the power to see ghosts of living past, communicate with them, and even find out information about their timeline. However when a powerful organization led by Major OhRus seeks to grab the amulet, it's up to these small-town youth to embark on a quest that becomes too big for a mere child to handle. Fortunately, these kids -- Chris, Math, Charlie, Big Joe, and Kevin -- are more than capable of such a world-saving task.
Each kid has their own specialty that will aid in solving puzzles and defeating enemies. Chris and Charlie are able to use better combat skills; Big Joe uses his strength to move heavy objects; Math can shoot an orb gun and temporarily fly over huge gaps; and Kevin...can fart and pick his nose. (He does a lot more later on, but we don't wish to spoil any of this game's surprises.) With all these skills on hand, players will be able to take on the undead, robots, and the most roughest of bosses and the like.
Crossing Souls takes a lot of story elements from various classics like E.T., Stand By Me, The Goonies, and Monster Squad, gathering a group of young ne'er-do-wells and placing them in one sticky situation. Well, "sticky" is perhaps the wrong word for this predicament, as tragedy befalls these kids quickly and unexpectedly. The story goes the familiar route these classic films took, before tossing it on its head and presenting some true heartbreak. It's dark and surprisingly mature when it comes to these moments, but it somehow manages to keep the fun coming soon after the dark times come and go.
Besides solving various puzzles with your characters' skills, players will also find themselves in hand-to-hand combat against enemies of different builds and sizes. Fighting them off will require a good strategy, as some ghouls will give you one final explosive attack when their energy's been fully depleted. In some cases, the muscle that Chris & Big Joe bring will aid you the best, but the nimble styles of Charlie & Math will keep your energy up and your health stable. Fighting off these sorts of creatures will only rid your world of a few more baddies, with nary a reward or character upgrade presented throughout the game's runtime. (It takes a good cue from last year's Rain World, which also gave you no character leveling system or upgrades during its run.)
What Crossing Souls does a great job with is presenting the worst kind of danger a kid can face. It never gets easier for Chris and his friends during this strange, stress-filled adventure, as the gang experiences hard times, loss, and impossible odds around every corner. Even in its pixelated state, Fourattic does an impeccable job with presenting emotion in these characters, with Chris often looking frustrated with what's occurred around him and Charlie visually upset when she sees those close to her are hurt by the greatest of evils. This is also presented in some wonderful animated cutscenes, looking like something straight from classic syndicated television.
Perhaps the best part of the game is its soundtrack. Composed by Chris Köbke and Timecop1983, the score can at one moment be filled with Danny Elfman-like whimsy and Joe Hisaishi-inspired epics and then go full synth right at the snap of its fingers. It's hard not to feel warm when a familiar tune starts to flutter through your speakers, as it creates an atmosphere that blends wonderfully with the game's setting. Trust me when I say you'll want to turn the volume all the way up just to hear this game's amazing score.
However, Crossing Souls doesn't come with its share of flaws. On a few occasions, I found my character somehow warped into furniture or even into the black nothingness that surrounds the indoor areas. Because of this, I had to restart my game from the previous save, losing a good chunk of the progress I made beforehand. Then there was the problem of the appearance of an unnecessary invisible wall in one area, resulting in me almost being unable to actually finish the game. (After trying a character's special ability and barely making it over to the platform, I was able to move onward, but needless to say it's a frustrating bug that I'm sure many will gripe about.)
Completing Crossing Souls will take you roughly ten hours to complete, a good amount of time to spend in this retro world. Players will be able to find collectible VHS tapes, game cartridges, and strange artifacts scattered throughout the levels, but they're only there for gaming completionists' sake. A shame, as it would've been fun to play or watch these collectibles in some way or form.
- Well-written, reference-filled narrative
- Great puzzle elements, battles
- Gorgeous soundtrack, animated visuals
- Some weird game-breaking glitches
Crossing Souls is a lovely nod to 80s childhood nostalgia, one that isn't afraid to tread down darker territory. With a story filled with wonderful homages to some clever puzzle elements, Fourattic and Devolver Digital have crafted a heart-pounding gaming experience that the Gen X youth will look at fondly through neon-colored lenses. Just prepare yourself to bite the dust on many occasions, especially during the boss battles.
Promotional consideration provided by Thomas Schulenberg of Tinsley PR. Reviewed on the PS4.