The basic premise of Crossing Souls is very familiar: It’s the 1980’s and a group of five kids in a small US town find themselves involved with the supernatural and pursued by a shady organisation. Yes, it does sound a lot like Netflix’s Stranger Things, but if you’re like me and just can’t get enough of 80’s nostalgia and pop culture references, then it’s definitely not a bad thing. Playing somewhat like a 16-bit era action adventure game, Crossing Souls revels in its period setting and gets its hooks in from its earliest moments. It’s not without its flaws (and there are a few) but it’s easy to fall in love with its ambition and design.
Developed by Spanish indie studio Fourattic and published by Devolver Digital, Crossing Souls is set in a small Californian town in 1986. You play as a group of teenagers who find a dead body in the woods as well as an artefact with supernatural powers allowing the user to communicate with the dead. The artefact is being hunted by a mysterious organisation who want to use it for evil purposes and will go to any lengths to retrieve it. As you work your way through the game you explore a beautifully drawn world, fighting enemies with fairly simple action based combat and solving environmental puzzles by switching through the five main characters. Each character fills a typical 80’s teen movie stereotype and each has their own unique abilities and weapons that come in handy for different situations. Chris, the cool kid and main character, has the ability to climb and fights with a baseball bat whereas the science nerd, Matt, fights with a homemade laser gun and can hover on rocket propelled shoes.
Presentation is where Crossing Souls excels. Its world is lovingly rendered in a pixel art style full of wonderful details and Easter eggs. You can spend every moment of the game playing spot the reference with little details from films like Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and Poltergeist scattered throughout the environment. The game looks beautiful and though it plays very differently, its art style is reminiscent of old style PC adventure games like Monkey Island in the way it extracts a surprising amount of detail from a limited number of colours and pixels. The town of Tajunga, where most of the game takes place, is particularly impressive and richly drawn. The soundtrack is also really nicely done, with nods to blockbuster film scores from years gone by. As you proceed through the story, you will occasionally get a fully animated cut scene done in a retro style, complete with VHS tracking lines intruding across the screen. It’s a nice touch but these sequences are a little rough, even by the standards of 80’s animation, and sit at odds with the overall polished presentation of everything else.
Oddly, Crossing Souls’ biggest issue is its writing. It’s a very story heavy game and while in many ways its plot could easily have been lifted from one of its beloved eighties films or cartoons, the game struggles with dialogue. It could simply be a translation issue but whilst most of it is serviceable, it’s often stilted and sometimes bordering on nonsensical with some very strange turns of phrase. It’s a game full of humour and unfortunately a lot of the jokes fall flat due to the odd delivery. Then again, the game’s almost constant use of Dad jokes would be perfectly at home in an TV sit-com from the time so maybe this is all intentional. And on the few occasions where the jokes hit, especially during some fantastic visual gags, Crossing Souls has the ability to be genuinely laugh out loud funny. Things get better as the game progresses but the story is such a heavy component of the way the game plays out that it could be a lot stronger. The controls also aren’t quite as tight as they should be in the action component of the game. You’re given a lot of tools for combat through each of the different characters but you never really have a reason to use one over the other outside of the very enjoyable boss fights. The puzzles generally work a lot better and the gameplay is mixed up occasionally with bonus levels inspired by retro arcade games which is always entertaining.
Crossing Souls wears its influences on its sleeve. How much you’ll get out of the game depends on how much you enjoy those influences. If you’re a fan of this particular brand of nostalgia, it’s a game you’ll love. It’s full of surprises and you’ll keep playing just to see what’s coming up around the next corner. If you have no particular interest in 80’s pop-culture then it’s a fairly simple action adventure game that probably won’t be able to hold your interest throughout its playing time. It’s a very ambitious game and Fourattic have done a great job, especially from a presentation point of view. If you’re all caught up on Stranger Things or just have an obsession with The Goonies, Crossing Souls is a game practically made just for you.
Review by Matt Russell.