Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC (Win, Mac, Linux)
My generation (I’m in my 30s) has an indomitable passion for the 1980s. The appeal waxes from fun nostalgia to tiresome and cynical. Sometimes you get brilliant results like Stranger Things, other times it’s a disastrous grab bag like Ready Player One.
Crossing Souls lies somewhere in between, proudly wearing its 80s setting on its denim jacket sleeve. The retro animated cutscenes help bring the surprisingly heavy story to life, but it’s dragged down by poor controls, repetitive combat, and strictly linear level design.
Stand by Them
The adventure begins with Chris, a courageous, good-hearted leader with a cliche cast of friends, including the Nerd, the Girl, the Annoying Little Brother, and the Token Black Guy. I love 80’s films as much as the next person but characters were notoriously archetypal and stereotyped, and Crossing Souls embraces it, for better and for worse.
The beginning hour is delightful as you explore the richly detailed town and gather your party of friends. The pixel art looks great, and each character has their own fun little animations.
The story kicks off when the little brother discovers a dead body and a mysterious device that lets them see ghosts. Soon they’re embroiled in a nefarious plot by a mustache-twirling villain and his evil army that’s ripped straight out of G.I. Joe.
While the plot doesn’t shy away from infusing as many 80s tropes and characters as it can (at one point I literally fought the villain from Ghostbusters 2), I did grow invested in the characters. Despite being typical 80s archetypes the young teens are well-written, and given plenty of time to grow and express their concerns and fears about the craziness that surrounds them.
The story is also shockingly dark and serious. Main characters die, sometimes violently. I won’t spoil specifics but this is not exactly the happy-go-lucky Goonies-style kid adventure I was expecting.
By far the best parts of the entire game are the animated cutscenes, which are drawn to emulate the methodically plodding animation style of the time. Developer Fourattic even included VHS scan lines throughout each one, adding a fun touch of nostalgia.
I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost
While I was generally impressed with the story and characters, the actual gameplay was mostly a letdown. Crossing Souls is about half real-time combat and half platforming, neither of which feel great thanks to floaty controls and the isometric view.
Each character has their own unique weapon when you come across enemies, like ghosts or giant rats. Chris has his trusty baseball bat while Matt can shoot a laser gun. Enemies are knocked back slightly when I hit them, making Chris and Charlie’s wide-arc attacks by far the most effective. It also means combat mostly boils down to mashing the attack button until things die, while occasionally monitoring my stamina.
I can switch characters on the fly, with each one having their own health bar. It’s useful when I’m in a jam but it’s mostly used for traversing the world and solving puzzles. Like their weapons each character possess different abilities. Joe can push crates while Matt’s rocket shoes let him reach distant platforms. The puzzles are fine, but I found the platforming incredibly frustrating. Trying to line up jumps in that 3/4 camera view is awful, and the controls for each character felt too floaty to ever precisely land where I wanted.
Once the story really begins the world design becomes completely linear. The party is dragged from one area to another, though the zones vary from forests, to cemeteries, to a desert ghost town. It serves the story, but there’s barely any exploration in any chapter, with only a handful of collectibles to grab. I finished the entire adventure in less than seven hours.
Crossing Souls has been rated T for Teen with Violence, Blood, Drug Reference, Language, Crude Humor, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco. It’s far heavier than most of the action-comedy 80s films it draws from, dealing directly with death and loss.
Fans of classic 80s film adventures will find a lot to love in Crossing Souls, and its brisk run time makes it an easy recommendation, despite its gameplay flaws.