Developer: Retro Forge
Release Date: June 2, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Genre: Action Adventure
There’s been a resurgence of pixel art Metroidvania-likes in the indie scene, and I think it’s about time I jumped on board with them. However, with the stream of titles released, it’s hard to keep up, but that changes now with the release of Souldiers.
Developed by RetroForge studios, Souldiers stars a nameless soldier and member of the Zargian Army who, at the behest of the court magician, have ventured through a cave to launch a counterattack against the kingdom of Dadelm, whom they are currently at war with. However, after an earthquake traps them inside, a valkyrie shows up and reveals to them that they have all died unless they follow her.
Venturing into the realm of Terragaya at the behest of the squad leader, these soldiers fight their way through slimes, animals, and monsters to get another shot at life. There is a story here with a literally colorful cast of characters, but it’s very back seat and has extremely little depth. But let’s look at the gameplay.
You play as one of the Zargian soldiers, picking between the classes of Scout, Mage, and Archer. The scout is a standard knight with a sword and shield, the mage has magical blasts and a stick to swing, while the archer has arrows on a cooldown and can throw their bow like Link throws a boomerang. Because sure, why not.
Souldiers is a 2D adventure game with elements of dark souls. No, not the ‘this game is very hard, you’ll die a lot, and you need to play very skillfully,’ although there is a little bit of that too. What I am referring to is within its area design.
In just the first dungeon alone, there are lots of doors, paths, and obstacles that, once passed, loop back around to where you started. There’s that delightful little, ‘oh snap, I’m back here again, that’s neat,’ every time it happens. The game leans into passive skills and elemental upgrades to clear environmental roadblocks, but it provides some creative puzzles. Notably, in just the first dungeon, you can use the fire enchantment to light torches in a dark area for some cautious platforming and exploration.
To also throw you off further, there are lots of little pressure plate traps that trigger boulders or arrow shots which are pretty amusing and combine themselves well with enemy placement for a bit of fun. The traps are everywhere; I love it.
Enemies, however, do take a bit of time to kill, which wouldn’t be much of an issue unless you’re playing the scout class. The game seems to be designed for longer-range archers and mages. Unfortunately, you can’t switch classes at any time and must play from the start. While this seems good for replay value, it takes a while for the characters to stand out. Except the scout stands out for the wrong reasons.
Melee damage is tough to position for generic enemy encounters, and the counterattack the scout has can often be functionally useless due to having no range. The other two classes have a passively charging burst attack and a short-range multihit attack as secondary skills, which have their uses. Still, the scout’s heavy attack combo deals so minor extra damage, cannot stagger enemies and takes so long to perform that I found it functionally useless.
The counter system itself also seems rather counterintuitive. If you time your counterattack perfectly, it costs a very significant amount, read: roughly 80%, of your guard meter to perform for an attack with little to no benefit as opposed to a regular attack, and prevents you from using the guard meter too well, guard. So it makes the whole system pointless, and you’d be much better ignoring it altogether.
Despite this, Boss fights are brutal and incredibly fun. Besides a couple of foes with an invincibility phase that goes on a little too long, I found them fair and enjoyed throwing myself at them until I got the pattern down to end them. Of course, it helps that you can retry right into the fights. Loading screens do feel like they take a while, though, and I’m sure this would be more of an issue on lower-end PCs and the Switch release.
It helps that in the audio and visual departments, Souldiers is also a good experience. The pixel art is nice, and the areas are varied and colorful, which prevents them from getting stale fast. The music is terrific, and boss fight tracks get you pumped to die against them again and again.
Souldiers is great for those looking for a new action platformer with a dose of challenge. Unfortunately, the game’s easy mode does very little in the way of making the experience, well, easier, so there’s some serious difficulty here. Sadly, there’s nothing in terms of story or character to ground you in this adventure, but if you’re into the gameplay systems, be sure to enlist.
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