There have been a bunch of indie action-adventure/Metroidvanias in development that I’ve been incredibly excited about over the last year or two; Souldiers, Aeterna Noctis, Grime, Haak, Steamdolls and Curse of the Sea Rats to name a few. Some have already been released on other platforms whereas others, like Souldiers, are having a cross-platform simultaneous release. Souldiers has beaten them all to the punch on the Nintendo Switch, I’ve been expecting you…
Souldiers looked great in all of its promotional gameplay shots; yes, while the 16-bit graphics are not cutting edge, I love the art style; cartoony yet realistic. Having finally got my hands on Souldiers, I’m pleased to say that it looks just as good during actual gameplay, even on the Nintendo Switch. The backdrops are colourful and detailed, and the character design is spot-on. All of the little soldiers/scouts in the game remind me of a cartoon version of the troops in the Federal Service in Starship Troopers. Would you like to know more?
Souldiers is set in Terragaya, a war-torn world which forms the backdrop of a power battle between your army and that of Dadelm’s. Many of your fellow troops become trapped in a cave buried in an earthquake, leaving the quest for freedom up to you. You can select to play as one of three classes (Scout, Caster and Archer), each of whom has their own skill tree.
One of the most impressive aspects of Souldiers is its sizable game world. The campaign is a good 20+ hours of content and many more if you want to 100% it. This represents great value for money and like any good action-adventure, the world is fun to explore. It’s slightly more on the linear side of things (which is why I would be cautious badging it as a full-on Metroidvania) but there is plenty of exploring and backtracking to be done where you can find secrets and collectables.
Lastly, and related to Souldiers’ impressive scope, the pacing feels spot on. The early stages are really difficult (I played on the normal setting) and you will die a lot because the combat is certainly Souls-like levels of difficulty. However, this makes you learn how to circumnavigate certain combat situations, which makes it feel all the more rewarding when you do. I’ve played a number of action-adventure games recently where you unlock all the new abilities very early on (the double jump is always a classic) but Souldiers cleverly makes you wait for these which, again, makes it all the more satisfying and rewarding when you unlock them.
- Superb art style
- Meaty campaign
- Pacing is challenging, but fair and rewarding
So it’s worth saying upfront that when receiving the code for Souldiers, it came with a caveat, being they were aware of a number of ‘performance issues and additional bugs’ that will be fixed with a day one patch. That puts me as a reviewer in a tricky position because it's impossible to know what exactly will be fixed on day one, however I’m also a game developer in my day job, so I completely understand that this can be the norm these days when trying to hit deadlines.
On that point, it’s not worth shying away from the fact that there are indeed many performance issues in the build that I played. The load times were ridiculously long, especially when saving, respawning after dying and transitioning into different areas. With some of the boss fights being quite punishing, this becomes especially frustrating when you repeatedly die; however, each time this happens, you know there’s a very long wait to get going again. There are checkpoints throughout the world, and you must manually save at each one to replenish your health, however given how long it takes to save, it would have made a lot more sense if your health could replenish automatically by walking past said checkpoints, rather than needing to wait for 30 seconds or more to heal yourself each time.
The combat in Souldiers is definitely Souls-like, which makes it all the more disappointing that there are some basic combat limitations. With short-range sword melee attacks, your character can only attack what’s directly in front or behind you, so it leads to that frustrating trope of there being enemies marginally above you that you’re unable to attack. Most games these days involve the ability to attack up and down but sadly, not in Souldiers.
Lastly, and I’m not sure if this is one of the bugs that will be fixed, but the map is a bit of a mess. Each area’s map begins as a blank canvas, and then when you obtain a map for any given area, a silhouette of the area appears. Once you explore the area, the silhouette fills-in with colour, thereby demonstrating where you have or haven’t been thus far. Makes sense right? However when you die, that filling-in disappears and the map returns to the silhouette; just… why? Each time I respawned, I also noticed that random bits of the map had been filled-in that I definitely hadn’t visited yet (which does suggest it’s all a bit buggy, so let’s see what happens on release), but if the filling-in does indeed disappear each time you die, it would be a hugely frustrating design choice.
- Very long load times (but will hopefully be fixed on release)
- Inability to attack up and down feels dated and unambitious
- The map system is either buggy or designed poorly, or both!
Final Score: 8/10
Souldiers and I had a love-hate relationship throughout our time together, but I’m pleased to say we ended up on good terms. The rich and expansive world just about offsets the numerous technical issues, which at the time of writing almost undermines the whole experience. However, if indeed as promised these things are fixed, then we have a real hit on our hands. Let’s see what happens!
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