Coming from developer Retro Forge and publisher Dear Villagers, Souldiers is a new entry in the somewhat over-subscribed Metroidvania platforming kind of genre. Sporting a somewhat retro style, and promising to mix platforming excitement with the combat style of the Souls series, can the Souldiers deliver on the promise of this fusion of styles, or is it just a mish mash of disparate styles?
Now, every good game needs a story, and the story in Souldiers is pretty good, to be fair. There is about to be a war, at the opening of the game, and the Royal Council of Zarga, faced with the Daldelm army, is preparing its military plans. The king makes a plan but his mind is changed by Arkzel; the main advisor and sorcerer. Knowing that Arkzel hasn’t steered him wrong before, the king goes with his plan, and Arkzel leads the cream of the army to a cave. After entering said cave, there is an earthquake and they find themselves trapped in darkness. A Valkyrie appears, and tells them that they are dead, basically, and then gives them the chance to come with her to carry on their existence elsewhere. Of course, there’s no chance a Valkyrie could be mistaken, is there? When we awaken, we find ourselves in the world of Terragaya – halfway between life and death.
With Souldiers coming from a developer with the word “retro” in its name, the visual look should come as no surprise to anyone. It is a retro styled platformer, with nicely styled sprites, both for the player and the enemies. The world in which it is all set in is nicely realised as well. The graphics are crisp and appealing, whilst everything is capable of moving at a good pace. In fact, for some of the bigger spider enemies in the first part of the game, you’ll wish they weren’t! The sounds are nicely implemented as well, with stirring music and suitable sounds for the combat all present and correct. All in all, the presentation of Souldiers is nicely done, and a tick has to go to Retro Forge for their work on this aspect of the game.
As you start things up, Souldiers tasks you with a choice to make – what class you want to be? There are choices between a Scout, relying on melee combat with a sword; an Archer, surprisingly armed with a bow; and a Caster, relying on the power of magic to bring the pain. Each class has not only its own set of moves to learn, but their own skill tree as well, which allows you to play with a variety of different builds to see which one suits your play style.
But the big question – how about the promised blend of Souls and Metroidvania? Does that work as well as the presentation? Well, yes, but then again, no. Let’s deal with the two strands of the game separately, shall we? First of all, the Metroidvania part and as I’m sure you know by now, the essence of this genre is that you explore a bit, do some fighting, gain new abilities and then go back to previous areas and are able to progress further. And this is all working well in Souldiers, with things like new fire powers being picked up by my archer, for instance, that allows her to clear webs with fire arrows and so on. This part of the gameplay is nailed on, but the rest is a little ropier.
See, the platforming is a little imprecise, and when you are trying to clear a gap with spikes underneath, even a slight delay between pressing that jump button and the character actually doing it can be fatal; and usually it is. Sadly, there is an annoying problem with the character not jumping when I ask it to, and so Souldiers gets just that little bit harder.
Combat is the other side of the coin, and here the news is better; with different styles to learn, the combat is interesting. There is a dodge move, which depletes a stamina bar, there are various moves to unlock and utilise, and all in all the combat works very well. The actual difficulty is the main issue here, without wanting to sound like too much of a wimp. I decided, for my first run, to play on the middle difficulty level, and I was roundly battered by every enemy I came across. The checkpoints in Souldiers are spaced a fair old way apart, and staying alive long enough to reach one is a major challenge all on its own. Changing the difficulty to “Explorer” for a subsequent run, I was astounded to find myself still dying a lot, so clearly the Souls influence is there.
All in all, Souldiers does have a lot to recommend. The game is big, the bosses that you meet need some serious planning and pattern learning, and there is a good challenge and learning curve. It’s just the little niggles that spoil the party; the annoying jump delay, the almost ridiculously hard combat. If Souldiers was capable of easing you in, allowing the player to level up a bit before throwing them into fights with unbearably powerful enemies, it would be better. Still, for fans of the genre, this will certainly provide a stiff challenge.
Souldiers is available to download from the Xbox Store