It’s 1986 in California. A group of friends discover a mysterious pink stone that allows to travel between two realms. This gang will live the summer of their lives in an adventure that will get them involved in a government conspiracy. Control five kids with specials skills while fighting and solving puzzles.
Single-Player, Action-Adventure gameplay
February 13, 2018
PS4, PS Vita, PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Rating: T for Teen*
Crossing Souls is a culmination of retro 80’s themed nostalgic TV shows and movies, such as Ghost Busters, Super 8, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but in the style of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past of the 16-bit era. Throw in some beat em’ up elements and a few puzzles, and you have what could be one charming indie adventure. Crossing Souls excels at recreating a science fiction story, however beneath its nostalgic surface is a final product that doesn’t fulfill its potential.
*Crossing Souls is very much a ‘hard’ Teen rating and appears much closer to an M for Mature rating if you’re sensitive to content.
Spiritual Content: The relic you find early in the game is used to commute with the dead and deceased. It’s not known what magic power this ability comes from, but the game delves into the occultist elements of dark magic.
Violence: Playing as the group of children, you will be whipping, hitting, and shooting with an electrical type of gun a variety of creatures and thugs. The combat is not graphic in nature, but there is some blood from defeated enemies and the corpse you take the amulet from in the beginning has blood coming from it.
Language/crude humor: What is presumed to be f*** is blocked out with $#%&, s***, g** darn, d***, dip s***. b****, are used multiple times, mostly by the adult characters, but also the children occasionally say them.
Drug/alcohol use: When going throughout the town, you may encounter the town drunk. A few punks smoke outside school and it’s not implied they are using drugs.
Crossing Souls taps into the 80’s nostalgic trend that’s been popular in recent media with Stranger Things and the newest It remake. The story combines the retro aspects of that time setting with paranormal activity in a small town and a group of adventurous kids looking for trouble. In Crossing Souls, you take control of Chris, Matt, Charlie, Big Joe, and Kevin, with each being unique in personality and traits while also feeling familiar to other classic series. Chris is the leader of the group, Matt is the wise one, Charlie is the tough tomboy with a trailer park dad, Kevin is the tough but sensitive, and lastly there’s Chris’s younger brother Kevin, the youngest and quirkiest.
One day while exploring the forest, Kevin comes across the remains of a dead body with a mystical amulet around its neck. Calling the rest of the group over, the kids decide to take the amulet, and upon analyzing it, discover its abnormal powers of crossing dimensions between the living and dead. This newfound relic can communicate with the ghosts of the dead, both the harmful ones and the friendly ones like Sparky, Chris and Kevin’s recently deceased dog. As one would expect, this retro-themed inspired story features an evil government agency focused on obtaining the amulet for themselves, thus leading the kids on a more dangerous adventure.
The story is entertaining for the most part with an interesting cast of characters and backdrop. Its one big flaw is its pacing and at times, the awkward writing. Occasionally, lines will just come off as cheesy in a bad way and other times the way the text is displayed by having dialogue changes end in a speech bubble with just one word as continuation of a full paragraph from the previous bubble, is jarring. The general pacing of the story feels off too, beginning with a strong start, but having a weak ending that doesn’t live up to what was being built up over the course of the game.
Crossing Souls doesn’t take that long to get the group of kids together. Thirty minutes in, you’re already controlling everyone and getting adjusted with each character’s unique skills and traits. Each kid brings a unique element to the table, something they’re specifically good at with solving puzzles and negotiating across obstacles. Chris for example can climb vines, while Matt has a pair of jet shoes that can hover over water for a brief period of time. Each of these abilities run on the characters stamina gauges and are used to solve puzzles in the environment.
While you will have access to all five characters for the most part, you can only control one at a time. With the press of a button, you will swap between each character on the fly to better suit the situation at hand. The differences in abilities are apparent, but there are stat differences too. Big Joe for example can pack a punch and is the tank of the group, while Chris sports a lighter baseball swing and is swift and agile on his feet.
The combat for the most part is pretty straightforward and doesn’t really evolve much throughout your playthrough of Crossing Souls. Most of the fight sequences have you swinging your attack at enemies as they fall one by one. Sadly, it doesn’t get more complicated other than some boss battles. Certain boss fights will have you select a specific character to perform certain moves, and that is one aspect I wish all the characters could have been utilized for—enemies or puzzles that require solutions that only specific characters can provide.
The same can be said for the special relic that allows the children to see the dead. Upon finding the relic, the kids are able to to cross dimensions and see ghosts all around them. Crossing Souls uses this in a humorous manner by showing off some hidden ghosts in the world, some even soaking up the sun even though it has no benefit for example. Other times, it’s used to solve puzzles with the help of ghosts. These interactions are rather simple though, and I wish they aimed for some more complexity in puzzle design. As far as lack of complexity, that’s very much the trend of Crossing Souls with simplicity, and I wish it could have been more than that.
Some of the best moments in Crossing Souls were the retro throw-back sequences and mini-games you could play. Occasionally, you will have the chance to play a mini-game based off of an iconic scene from an 80’s show or movie, such as the E.T. bike scene. They’re simple, but definitely the most charming moments the gameplay in Crossing Souls. Unfortunately, the gameplay and combat feels too straightforward and didn’t evolve enough past the beginning of the title.
Visually, Crossing Souls makes use of pixel art, but it’s fully styled pixel art. The graphics are abundantly charming, and the way the characters move and interact with objects—whether it’s picking up a key or swinging a bat at an enemy—is done exceptionally well. There’s a sense of endearment with how the characters react to certain actions, and there’s a satisfying feedback reaction. I also appreciated the lighting design as it added some flair to the gameplay, such as the use of purple ambient light throughout the arcade scene, or the slight reddish glare in certain outside scenes.
One particular charming design choice that flows exceptionally well with the story setting is the use of 80’s themed cartoon cut-scenes. Very early on in Crossing Souls you get an introduction that essentially introduces the cast of characters, both the good ones and bad ones, in a Saturday morning cartoon style. It’s simply a joy to watch, and I wish there were more of them in the title.
The soundtrack is techno-heavy with some synthetic pop vibes and it all fits in well with the 80’s style setting, especially with the cartoon cut-scenes. Crossing Souls definitely brings back the charming aspects of sound design from both 80’s science fiction and music from that time. At the very least, the music always perfectly matched with the scene. In many games, the music feels tacked on, or complimentary at best, but here it felt like a harmonious relationship.
Overall, Crossing Souls is the culmination of recent retro themed video games and media. It’s certainly an odd combination, but one that works very well for the most part. I find the cast of characters and story riveting, although the writing in some conversations could have been better. The gameplay is enjoyable, but overly simplified as to not allow much experimentation in combat and puzzle design. If you’re a fan of the current trend of revisiting retro settings, Crossing Souls is the perfect game to scratch that itch.
+ Great soundtrack
+ Clever retro presentation
+ Fun callbacks to 80's entertainment media
+ Pixel art graphics are charming and well done
- Repetitive puzzle structure
- Overly simplified gameplay mechanics
- Story starts off well, but fades with a weak ending