Title: Cassette Beasts
Developer: Bytten Studio
Release Date: April 26, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Raw Fury
You know those moments that, for whatever reason, just stick with you? Like me, in 1996, sitting on the grass with my back against the school wall, getting the “What! Poliwhirl is evolving?” message while playing Pokemon Blue. I didn’t know it then, but I’d be chasing that feeling for decades. The few games that bring me back to those times are some of my favorites, and Bytten Studio’s Cassette Beasts earn a spot on that list.
Cassette Beasts opens with your character waking up on a beach in an unfamiliar area. You’re given control almost immediately and can wander around as you see fit. Before too long, you’re attacked by a Traffikrab – a monster that, as you can likely gather from the name, looks like a mix of a crab and a traffic cone. It’s a great introduction to the quirky combinations of monsters you’ll find throughout your journey in New Wirral.
Before going into battle, though, a girl named Kayleigh approaches and explains what’s going on. You’re trapped here in New Wirral, and this world is filled with monsters like you see before you. Don’t worry, though! Citizens of New Wirral aren’t exactly normal. They can transform into beasts they’ve recorded using retro cassette tapes. I knew I should have kept that Shaggy cassette. After Kayleigh’s explanation, you’re given a quick demonstration of how to transform and then sent on your way.
I immediately felt at home in Cassette Beasts with its graphics, music, and battle system. In fact, if someone asked me to describe this game in one word, I’d choose cozy. There’s just something about how the music combines with those HD portraits that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Characters are expressive, and the voice acting is top-notch – though I would recommend adjusting the audio settings since the voice volume is a bit jarring at first.
Combat is deep and challenging, yet fair. In a unique twist on type advantages, Cassette Beasts employs what Bytten Studios calls a “Chemistry System.” Instead of simply dealing more damage when targeting a monster’s weakness, you’ll inflict various status effects—fighting an ice-type monster? Use metal to give it the “smashed” status, reducing melee and ranged defense for a few turns. Don’t poison an earth-type monster, though. I’d tell you why, but I won’t spoil your fun.
The chemistry system is a really cool idea, though I had difficulty remembering the 15 types each monster belongs to. It’s more than the fire, water, earth, and air elements you might be familiar with. Cassette Beasts throws in plastic, metal, beast, and eight other types – all of which will react to each other in different ways. Remembering type chemistry was particularly challenging in the early game, where tool tips for status effects were popping up in almost every battle. Maybe I missed it, but having a way to hover over active status effects would do a lot to prevent confusion.
Battle animations aren’t too dramatic, though most of them look great. And some bigger attacks surprised me – particularly after being disappointed with animations in more popular monster collecting games. The Traffikrab you encounter at the start is an excellent example of this. When using its “Traffic Jam” ability, you’ll see it conjure a bunch of traffic cones onto the battlefield. I wouldn’t say that’s a requirement for combat, but it made it a lot more fun.
Speaking of other monster-collecting games, captured units in Cassette Beasts can evolve into different forms when they reach a certain rank. Monsters captured from the wild seem to have one evolutionary path, whereas the main beast you choose at the start can go a couple of different ways. It’s a fun mechanic and makes the completionist in me wonder how things would be different had I chosen option #2.
Monsters in your party are customizable, too. Stickers you acquire act as abilities that can be attached and removed from members of your party. This gives you a lot of wiggle room when building a team, and you’ll need a good team – especially when dealing with some of the game’s more difficult battles.
I encountered a few human allies throughout Cassette Beasts, and they can be swapped at will, so you always have one at your side. The partners you find along the way are a lot of fun and add to Cassette Beasts’ charm. Relationships aren’t extremely deep but progress far enough. You’ll unlock the ability to combine tapes with your partner in battle – creating a unique fused monster with boosted stats and abilities. In addition, you don’t have to be ‘just friends’ with your partners forever. With enough time and the right dialogue choices, you can grow into something more… intimate.
No game is perfect, and I encountered some issues in my playthrough. Moving throughout the world felt clunky (especially at first). The dash mechanic, in particular, can be annoying. There’s such a brief window of movement before depleting stamina that it hardly feels worth it. Granted, you do get stamina upgrades and a few abilities that help. Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that it feels like my character was carrying around a 100lb weight every time they jumped.
This brings me to another issue I hope Bytten Studios adjusts in a future update. If you swap a partner and forget to change their equipped monster, it stays with them. This isn’t a huge deal if you remember to do it, but running to the opposite side of the map–only to find that the monster I want is attached to a new character in town instead of in my storage–made me audibly say, “Really?”
Those are small concerns, though. Cassette Beasts has so much charm that any oddities are easily brushed aside and didn’t spoil my fun. A regular playthrough will take somewhere in the 15-hour range, though players looking to see all that New Wirral has to offer can add on another 20-30. The main story is long enough without overstaying its welcome, and side quests make this game one I’ll play again.
Cassette Beasts was clearly made with love. It’s packed to the brim with places to explore, relationships to develop, and monsters to capture (er, record). The few issues are minor and hardly detract from the overall enjoyment. If you love monster collectors, retro RPGs, or just want to feel like a kid again, Cassette Beasts won’t disappoint you.
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