There’s been an influx of 80’s inspired media recently and it seems to have been ushered in by the massive Netflix hit, Stranger Things. While it’s always a great idea to try and look forward with media, sometimes it’s nice to have a few nostalgic tugs on your heart strings to show you that gaming doesn’t have to be all glitz and glamour. Sometimes it can invoke feelings of memories long since past. While that may not be the core aim of Crossing Souls, it certainly does it well.
Crossing Souls is an action-adventure romp through a tonne of 80’s and 90’s references. Its reliance on these references is what makes it hit for me, though I feel like it’s appeal could be lost on a younger generation.
Gameplay-wise, Crossing Souls is a strange hybrid, or at least I think it’s odd. You navigate around areas looking for an item or to hit a progression marker. While travelling to and from these markers you’ll sometimes encounter enemies. That’s where Crossing Souls almost becomes a Beat-Em-Up, in the vein of Double Dragon. Unlike Double Dragon though, you have access to 5 characters (eventually) that you can switch to at any time, Big Joe, Charlie, Chris, Matt and Kevin. These characters all have different stats, abilities and weaponry. This means that you’ll have to manage all your characters in combat, as sometimes you’ll need a powerhouse, while others will require you to knock back projectiles.
Naturally, with any game that has a beat-em-up element, Crossing Souls does have a number of bosses. Some of them end up being annoying damage sponges, while a few play off the team dynamic nicely. A stand out for me was early on, with a boss that involved having to knock back projectiles to keep yourself safe, shooting a button to shut down some power lines, then using the strong character to pull out batteries. While on paper (or via a monitor) it doesn’t sound that interesting, when playing Crossing Souls, it’s the variations on various characters move sets that make it interesting, especially when you’re controlling Charlie, as she has an almost Hyper Light Drifter-esque dash, which feels really good as a navigation tool.
Granted though, with great power comes great responsibility so there are also a few annoyances with the varied move sets. Only one character can jump, only one character can slingshot across areas and only one character can push boxes about. While it isn’t a game-breaking gripe, I had more than one occasion where I was trying to jump out of the way of an enemies attack and instead I haven’t actually moved due to playing as Big Joe, who kinda just stands still when you press the jump button.
As I noted earlier, Crossing Souls is rife with throwbacks and references. Not only does this show in the collectables where you collect VHS tapes and old cartridges with knock-off names such as “Trek Wars IV: The Search For Spock”, there are also subtle references in some of the areas you go to. At one point, Crossing Souls literally becomes a modern Double Dragon (not Neon), with you battling from left to right against various named enemies. Not content with just one reference though, soon after the Double Dragon experience, you’re also treated to a Battletoads reference, with a bike chase reminiscent of the infamous speeder section. While not as difficult as the source material, the Crossing Souls “speeder section” is still a pain in the arse, but in a good way that doesn’t lead you to scream “FUCK” every two seconds.
Side quests are abundant in Crossing Souls, ranging from killing some rats in a local fast food joint to exorcising a house filled with ghosts. While they’re not designed to be complex, they’re still a fun little deviation from just motoring through the story and they serve to flesh out the world of Crossing Souls.
Graphically, Crossing Souls is a beautiful testament to the power of pixel art. The models are simple, yet have little intricacies. The world you navigate around is full of colour, without being garish or massively in your face.
A great standout point for this is when you enter the arcade, as the power’s been knocked out and nothing’s powered on. It feels lifeless, almost like a relic of a previous time, but as soon as you get the power back on, the colours are popping, the crowds have gathered and are pumping in the quarters. With moments like this, Crossing Souls fires waves of nostalgia at you and really creates a feeling of “the good old days”.
What helps Crossing Souls stand out from the pack is its sheer amount of extra information. When the game first starts, you’re in Chris’ room. While you’re tasked with going to find your brother, there’s a multitude of little objects dotted around the room, and the house, that all have little droplets of information about them. What becomes super interesting is that once you gain the rest of your team, you can reinvestigate the same objects to get a different text pop, sometimes showing more (or less) expertise about what the item is. Examining stuff in Matts workshop gives different results if you’re not actually playing as Matt, considering the rest of the crew aren’t literal geniuses. It’s little touches like that that really make you realise the love and attention that’s gone into Crossing Souls.
To claim that Crossing Souls plays up the nostalgia angle would be a disservice to the overall experience, but there are a few times where the throwbacks and subtle nods to a time long since past are a little overbearing. As there’s a member of the crew who’s a scientist, you’ve obviously got a 1.21 gigawatts reference. When Crossing Souls hits the mark with a reference, it works so well. The issue lies with the amount that don’t quite hit and obviously, some people will enjoy certain references more than others, which is why it’s such a tricky subject to get right. I mean, just look at Ready Player One.
I feel that with the aesthetic and nostalgic pull that Crossing Souls is aiming for, the music needs to be discussed. Cast your mind back to the SNES era of gaming. Chiptunes are rife, almost everything (that’s good) has an infectious melody that’ll stay looping in your brain even until you’re in your mid-twenties working as a video game reviewer. So naturally, if you create a game to invoke memories of youth, you’d expect it to hit all areas of past games. Unfortunately, Crossing Souls soundtrack is pretty forgettable. While it’s serviceable in the fact that I didn’t stop and go “What in Gods name am I listening to”, but I feel like it’s a true misstep to have the soundtrack be “passable”.
Crossing Souls also features a few cutscenes, as a way to denote something important happening or to show the beginning or end of a level. Not wanting any area of the game to not feel like a throwback, these cutscenes also lean heavily on the nostalgia angle, as they wouldn’t look out of place in Dragons Lair or something of similar laserdisc quality. It’s a nice nod that keeps Crossing Souls in the time period that it’s aiming for.
So what’s my overall opinion on Crossing Souls? As I first played it, I was enthralled. I loved the aesthetic, I loved the little nods to things from my childhood while also enjoying the references from other pop culture. The issue lies when Crossing Souls seems to rely a little too hard on playing to the audiences nostalgic tendencies. While the gameplay is tight, the combat is a little too reliant on “mash x button then move away” and it’s a shame it isn’t fleshed out more, so it becomes less of a means to an end and more of an actual fun section. Is Crossing Souls a good game? Absolutely. Could it have been a great game? Almost definitely.