Between Netflix’s Stranger Things and the recent film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, 80s nostalgia-enriched media is reaching a bit of fever pitch. However, for the most part, this itch to return to ‘the good old days’ isn’t something that many video games have tackled. When faced with that reality, indie developer FourAttic saw opportunity. Based in Seville, the team are gearing up to launch their first full-length project: Crossing Souls.
We spent a bit of time with a preview build of the game ahead of its launch later this month, and came away delighted but cautious.
Inspired by classic 80s films like The Goonies and set in 1986 California, Crossing Souls follows a group of ragtag group of five friends who discover a mysterious crystal that allows to travel between dimensions.
From there, the group are dragged into the midst of a sinister government conspiracy - and from the moment you hit ‘New Game’, the look and feel of Crossing Souls seems to do that retro premise justice. It’s positively vibrating with the retro timbre of the time.
If I had to compare it to anything else in games, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number probably comes to mind the quickest. With the game’s delightfully animated pixel sprites and VHS-style artifacts, It feels like Fourattic have worked overtime here to create something unique and something that tries to embody its source material in both style and substance.
Second to the aesthetic, the thing that struck me the most about the early hours of Crossing Souls was just how cinematic it feels. Not cinematic in the most-traditional sense, but cinematic in the way that the story is paced. Everything unfolds as you’d expect, but in a way that feels welcoming and familiar rather than tedious or predictable.
At times, it feels like you’re watching - and experiencing - a classic 80s caper unfold before your eyes. Sure, the dialogue is sometimes pretty campy. However, it’s awkward and cringe-inducing in a way that feels faithful and comparable to the way that a lot of dialogue from 80s-era films can be awkward and cringe-inducing.
Part of the reason I’ve focused so much on the presentation elements of the game thus far is because, without them, there wouldn’t be a whole lot to talk about here otherwise.
The opening hour of the game saw each of the five playable characters introduced and added to our party. With each addition to our crew, we faced puzzles that highlighted the unique skills available to each character. Big Joe can move heavy objects, Matt can hover across gaps using his homemade jetpack, Chris can jump and climb up ledges. You get the idea. This kind of party-based puzzle solving has been around since The Lost Vikings.
That said, Crossing Souls does have a bit more of a focus on combat than The Lost Vikings. Each of your five characters boasts a distinctly different fighting style and set of moves. During our experience with the game, we’d be juggling between characters to best suit the enemies the game threw at us. It’s during these combat sequences that Crossing Souls’ Synth-Pop soundtrack really shines. Combat isn’t particularly difficult or complex but, at least during the early sections of the game, the variety in both enemy types and your own crew keep things engaging enough.
At this stage, the longevity and longer-term pacing of Crossing Souls might be the aspect of the experience I hold the biggest reservations about. Only an hour or so into the game, the combat is fresh, the aesthetic is novel and the characterisations are charming, albeit sometimes obnoxious. Over time, the luster could fade from any or all of these - turning the game’s early strengths into dead-weight that drags down the experience.
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, sure. But it’s easy to become burnt out. Sustaining an 80s adventure over a dozen hours is a lot more difficult to doing so over 90 minutes. That might actually be one reason why relatively few video games have really tackled in much depth to date.
FourAttic are likely hoping that Crossing Souls can be the first.
Crossing Souls releases later this month on PC and PS4.