There’s a self-help quote that does the rounds fairly often: “it’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better”. The internet tells me that it’s attributed to Jonathan “Jony” Ive, a developer for Apple, but for the purposes of this review, it applies to 6Souls. This is a game that does almost nothing different. It just happens to do it better than most.
There are a LOT of games like 6Souls. We’d go so far to say that precise 2D platformers (in pixel art, preferably) arrive on a weekly basis. But 6Souls is excessively charming, and it does a few simple things well, making it an adventure that we enjoyed from the beginning to its end.
In 6Souls, you play as Jack, an intrepid adventurer who spies an abandoned castle and fancies raiding it for treasure. He’s partnered by his dog Butch, who mostly hides in Jack’s backpack. But on entering the castle, it’s clear that something terrible has happened: an evil sorcerer has killed everyone and gathered their souls into soul crystals. If the sorcerer is to be defeated, the soul crystals will need to be recovered from several bosses, when they can be returned to their corresponding Soul Tower and freed.
There really isn’t much else to 6Souls’s story. There’s some charming interplay between Jack and Butch, but the focus is mostly on the platforming, which 6Souls has an abundance of. There are eighty levels here, across eight different locations, with a boss at the end of each sequence. And on defeating the boss and gathering its soul crystal, you will improve Jack, giving him additional moves. Primarily, this means rush-like moves where you can zip through the levels at speed.
Nothing of what we’ve written will feel new or interesting to the average player. But there’s something about the confidence it has in its own simplicity that makes it a joy to play. For one, the controls are fiercely responsive. With one exception (more on that later), you feel in complete control of Jack and Butch (you can swap to Butch with the press of RB). The addition of an RB wall-grab means that you’ve also got a safety net – a means of getting out of a tough situation. You can make up for that jump that you didn’t quite nail, for example.
The levels and bosses are also compact, but pitched perfectly in terms of challenge and complexity. They might not feel massively different from each other, but they do the job of keeping the adrenaline up. And should you fail, you are whipped back to the start of the level, which feels like just-about the right degree of punishment as the levels are relatively short. Bosses are patterned and have very clear methods of defeating them without losing a single bit of health, should you master them.
Combat is a little more ropey, as 6Souls has a blocking system that doesn’t quite work. You can block, but that block has a knockback which will often send you off platforms, and you have three blocks before you are staggered and open to attack. Blocking is just as likely to hurt you than protect you. Since there are very few rewards for killing a creature, we mostly found ourselves jumping past them.
But moving through the castle never stopped feeling good. Part of that is because of the collectibles, which give you a reason to be more exhaustive, grabbing coins and bacon (?) from harder to reach parts of the map. The other is a visible sense of progression, as you move up through the castle’s map, getting ever closer to the sorcerer.
6Souls’ greatest flaw is in its rush controls. The most common upgrade from each level is a sudden burst in any direction, and you can do multiple in a row. All you have to do is aim and press B, which fires you off in a multitude of directions. But we found it to be inaccurate, especially if you want to do something precise. We lost count of the number of times we ploughed into a row of spikes, or died at the arms of a spider. The precision wasn’t there when using either the stick or the analogue pad.
6Souls is not ‘different’, then. If we were feeling unfair, we would say that it’s a perfect median of all the 2D pixel-art platformers that came before it. But while 6Souls may not be different, it is often better. It takes things simply but confidently, and delivers a generous adventure that isn’t just competent – it’s ruddy good fun.
We won’t be talking about 6Souls in hushed tones for decades to come. It doesn’t do nearly enough to stick in the memory. But, for the few evenings that you spend exploring its castle, its uncomplicated adventures will be a balm for the soul.
You can buy 6Souls from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S