Crossing Souls is an inspired game lovingly crafted in 16-bit pixels, arcade action, and a synth soundtrack to tell a story channeling the very soul of the 1980s.
It’s an homage to 80s games, movies, and pop culture sure to delight kids, 80s kids, and retro gamers. Just be sure to pack your millennial reflexes, patience, and a good gamepad.
Welcome to Nostalgia-town USA
Crossing Souls takes place in a small town easily transplanted from any of your favorite 80s movies where groups of misfit kids band together, find adventure and save the day.
Five young friends discover a sinister conspiracy of villains planning to use a mysterious artifact and unleash the undead upon the earth. But the villains require the remaining piece of the artifact, called the Duat, which was found by our tweener protagonists in the woods on a dead body.
Of course, the kids’ dire warnings fall on deaf adult ears, so it’s up to ‘the gang’ to protect the Duat from a bunch of oddball, evil grownups, solve its mysteries, and save the world.
Meet the gang
If you grew up in the 80s or watched any 80s movies that inspired the game (such as E.T. or The Goonies, but also more recent fare such as Super 8 or Stranger Things), The Gang consists of a familiar bunch of misfit kids that include Plucky Younger Brother (Kevin), Fat Kid (Big Joe), Poor Tough Girl (Charlie), The Nerd (Matt), and their leader Older Brother (Chris, Kevin’s older brother).
You play the entire gang, who are represented by whichever character you’re controlling at the time. You can switch between them freely while exploring, solving puzzles, and fighting through side-scrolling fight sequences that gleefully hearken back to your button-mashing glory days playing Double Dragon.
Each kid has unique abilities you must often combine to overcome puzzles and enemies. Big Joe is the strongest and toughest, and he can move large objects around to create new paths and platforms. Chris can climb walls and can knock away projectiles with a bat. Matt has rocket boots to make extra-long jumps, and he comes armed with a blaster (Nerd, remember?). Charlie is armed with a whip (jump rope) and can use it to slingshot herself over long chasms.
Kevin… well, he can do things no one else can do. Revealing them spoils a little of the story, so we’ll move on.
You may, for example, need to use Chris’s ability to climb somewhere, Big Joe’s ability to move a block, and then use Matt’s blaster to shoot something to activate it.
And in addition to combining different kids’ abilities to solve the game’s many challenges, you’ll also need to switch between two dimensions—our world and the world of the dead—to solve various puzzles as well.
Arcade mashup meets adventure game
Each chapter of Crossing Souls generally consists of exploration, puzzle-solving, isometric platforming, and fighting. But be prepared to switch gears often. Crossing Souls doesn’t let you get too comfortable (or bored), and often introduces short levels that force you to learn and play something new.
For example, fairly early in the game you must elude the police (and the bad guys) in a fast-paced, side-scrolling bicycle chase in which you must successfully respond to the game’s cues to avoid crashing. (It’s largely a game of memorization and rapid response, somewhat like Dragon’s Lair. )
Fortunately, Crossing Souls generally provides just enough of a particular sequence to go through the Five Stages of Arcade Gaming: Sucking, Learning, Frustration, Mastery, and Fist Pumping Victory.
Arcade action with (80s) soul
Amid all the 80s-style arcade action in Crossing Souls is a thoughtfully written and equally 80s story. While Fourattic does a good job of blending and changing different types of gameplay, the game’s story and character interaction invest you in it far more than its gameplay could on its own.
And you’ll need that motivation. If there’s one criticism I have for the game, it’s that its checkpoint saves are too far apart and it can be, at times, punishing. I played through one sequence of the game for about 30 minutes, then died towards the tail-end—but instead of resetting back a short distance the game set me all the way back to a prior checkpoint—which meant nearly 30 minutes of progress lost and more than a little frustration.
Granted, conquering a hard level makes the reward (i.e. the next checkpoint) all the sweeter. But 80s kids have neither the reflexes, patience, or free time that they had growing up in the 80s, and they don’t need a replacement for the punishment of giving up more quarters, even though they probably have a lot more of them now.
That’s a rather long-winded way of saying a less punishing checkpoint system would have been appreciated.
In addition, while the game’s arcade action is generally best with a gamepad (and the game recommends using one up front), Fourattic could have done a better job optimizing the game for play with a keyboard/mouse.
Crossing Souls is a delightful, nostalgic 80s arcade romp and an enjoyable adventure sure to please retro game fans, modern kids and 80s kids alike—–just bring your kid/millennial reflexes, a gamepad, and a healthy dose of patience.
And for 80s kids maybe a fifth of whiskey— to numb those occasional, punishing defeats and the accompanying realization of your ailing reflexes and age that goes with them.
You can pick up Crossing Souls on Steam. (It’s also available on PS4.)