Genre: Action, Adventure
System: Steam (Windows & macOS) (also on Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PS4)
Developer|Publisher: Retro Forge | Dear Villagers
Controller Support: Yes
Price: UK £15.49 | US $ 19.99 | € 19,99
Release Date: June 2nd, 2022
Review code provided with many thanks to Plan of Attack.
Enter the Void
Souldiers is a 2D adventure game with soul-like inspiration. It’s starting to feel like an almost weekly occurrence that we get a game that fits this description. Competition has never been more fierce. Souldiers is a game that feels best suited to gamers looking for a tough challenge. A few rough edges keep it from being the best out there but if you’re able to look past them you will find a lot to like about this title.
Terragaya: Beautiful but Dangerous
You are part of a group of soldiers fighting for the Kingdom of Zaragoza at war with the country of Dadelm. Things go a bit wrong when attempting to set up a counter-attack your army ends up getting trapped underground by an earthquake. But help is at hand when a Valkyrie appears to offer a portal to another realm and a method of escape. Since the choice is dying in a hole or entering the unknown you march into the portal.
From there you enter the dangerous but beautiful land of Terragaya, filled with monsters and pockets of safety. Your quest is to find your way out of this realm in an attempt to return to the world of the living. You can learn more about the lore by finding notes dotted around the map, however, if you’re just here for some challenging gameplay you’re in the right realm.
Choose Your Souldier
When you start the game you are able to choose your class from Knight, Mage and Archer. Each has a different feel and play style. When you make a choice you are stuck with that character for the rest of the game. I ended up going with the knight, but I wondered if I should have made another choice as the focus on close combat proved to be quite tricky. It’s a shame these souls games don’t let you change characters during the game or have a way to try the characters out before you commit. But by saying this I feel I’m already ruffling the feathers of that passionate audience.
Controls are pretty accessible with your standard platforming and attacking controls. The developers describe the game as a ‘crunchy souls-like combat’ which feels like an apt description. You need to take your time and make your hits count as even the most basic of enemies are capable of taking you out with ease. Combat has an emphasis on blocking and dodging attacks, getting familiar with both is key to success. If you block you will absorb all damage but your stamina bar will drain. If it fully depletes you will be left vulnerable to the enemy’s wrath. New abilities and moves will be discovered as you progress through the game which will help in combat and access previously blocked areas. They come at the cost of mana which is replenished with red crystals dropped by baddies.
Special potions can be found in chests and consumed to heal or temporarily buff your stats. These are incredibly scarce and their effects feel a little weak. More can be purchased by a greedy pig vender but that comes at a pretty high gold cost. I was often ploughing through health potions yet they only provided mild assistance. Health drops can be found from breaking items and defeating enemies although these provide only tiny rejuvenation.
A Handy Map
You can keep track of your progress with a handy map. It was nice to see your character literally pull out a map before you view it in the menu, a nice graphical touch. Whenever a new mechanic is presented the game presents a useful tutorial box which can be accessed again in the main menu if you have a memory like a goldfish, as I seem to these days. You level up naturally by slaying enemies, when this happens your character displays a satisfying power pose on screen.
With each level up you can unlock new abilities via a skill tree, but I felt these really didn’t make a lot of notable improvement until you have levelled up significantly over time. It really takes a bit of a grind before your character really starts to buff up but when you get to that point the game really starts to become quite rewarding.
A Rock and a Difficulty Spike
I found myself rather enjoying the combat. It does feel a bit stilted at times but, considering I usually suck at souls-like games, the blocking and dodging just seemed to click with me here. What didn’t click so much as some of the awful enemy placements in the levels. Some enemies will fling projectiles at you off-screen which causes significant damage and can feel a bit cheap when entering a new area. There were also areas where getting hit by enemies knocked my character back down a hole, meaning I had to tediously climb up a series of platforms to usually end up getting knocked back down again.
The game does offer multiple difficulty settings which can be changed during gameplay. I did knock it down to the easiest setting however, I didn’t really notice a lot of difference in the combat challenge. The difficulty will rapidly spike at times leading to quite a bit of frustrating moments.
Souldiers is a hard game. This is probably not a game for those looking for a smooth casual experience. Death came thick and fast for me and when you die it’s back to the last checkpoint or save point which sometimes is quite far back. Occasionally the game will auto save, usually before a boss encounter, but I highly suggest saving often to avoid heartbreak.
Graphics are presented with a stunning pixelated art style that feels reminiscent of the 16-bit era but adds significantly more detail. From dark caverns crawling with spiders both big and small, to outdoor areas with lush vegetation, then dry deserts and dragon ruled castles. This is a memorable fantasy realm that will stick with you. Level design feels vibrant and alive thanks to good lighting effects, flowing water streams and small details like little animals roaming about. This might be the first game I think I’ve seen an armadillo just rolling about in the background which was neat. This is topped off with an impressive soundtrack which suitably matches the tone of the level designs.
For review, I started playing on Switch where performance is a bit unpredictable and load times are incredibly long. The latter being pretty frustrating for a game where you die a lot. The developers have said they are addressing performance issues as well as bugs or glitches. On the PC things ran notably smoother and loaded pretty fast. The Switch version is playable and does have the bonus of taking the game on the go which is quite appealing. But if you plan on playing on TV maybe consider another version if you have access at this stage.
Conclusion – It’s Got, Soul
Souldiers has a lot of soul to it but it’s not an experience that will click with everyone with its unpredictable spikes in difficulty and slow start to the game. It feels like it could do with some balancing with the difficulty that the developers are working on, so maybe consider keeping this on your wishlist.
After spending time with it, I did find an awful lot to like about this game. I’ll absolutely be checking in on the Switch version for performance updates and to play through as a new character class. At this stage, it feels like a hidden gem with some rough edges. If you’re able to look past them you will find a burning soul of joy in Souldiers.
Final verdict I Like it