Worthy representative of a genre popularized by Metroid and Castlevania with a remarkable use of pixel art, Souldiers is the result of several years of work by the independent studio Retro Forge. This small team based in Madrid signs an exhilarating title that pushes all the cursors in terms of challenge, creativity and above all intensity!
Built as an ambitious metroidvania-style platform action game (understand with truly gigantic maps and environments full of secrets that can only be accessed once you have acquired certain abilities), Souldiers is a very good representative of the genre. He even manages to surprise by involving Trickier and less predictable progression mechanics than most games of this style offer. The game stands out above all for its huge and labyrinthine dungeons which require extensive exploration in every corner of the map in order to discover secret passages which connect the areas as if one fitted puzzle pieces. Here, crystals of light will come, for example, to materialize sand platforms for a limited time, when it is not downright clouds of dust that reveal them to our gaze. There, hydrobubbles will serve as springboards to launch us into the air in the chosen direction. The environment is certainly rather classic in the choice of biomes but it sometimes contains some welcome interactions, even if the idea would have benefited from being dug even more.
A game that claims its Souls-like influence
But Souldiers is also presented as a distant heir to From Software’s Souls (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls) and his name was clearly not chosen at random. To a certain extent, one could even compare its difficulty to that of Elden Ring. The comparison may seem bold, even pretentious, but we better understand the idea behind it once the controller is in hand. With three character classes to choose from at the start for as many different gameplays, Souldiers already requires quite a bit of practice before being tamed. The difficulty of the software being, to say the least, raised, perfectly mastering the talents of your character is essential to survive in the environments of the game.
Defeating the bosses requires making good use of parry, dodging or counter-attack techniques depending on the talents of the character you play: mage, archer or scout. The defense is conditioned by the limit of a stamina gauge which, once broken, takes a very long time to recharge. This encourages you to remain aggressive without exposing yourself to enemy attacks as the life bar is fragile, especially in the skin of the sorcerer. Distrust because simple mutant rats can turn out to be more lively and dangerous than the real bosses with well-defined combat routines, which makes exploring the maps extremely difficult. Not to mention poison, bleed, or curse-type status ailments that literally drain your hit points.
3 character classes to master
Depending on the class chosen at the start (scout, archer or mage), the reflexes are obviously not the same and it is recommended to take the time to start a game for each of them before making your choice. Because it is unfortunately not possible to change it later on the same backup, which in return has the merit of multiplying by 3 the lifespan by encouraging us to start the adventure again with characters with completely different skills. . The scout clearly benefits from the best defense with the possibility of placing counters and special attacks. The mage compensates for his great physical vulnerability with homing shots and explosive techniques. More difficult to master, the archer must count his arrows but can throw his bow boomerang style in the event of close attack.
A mystical world beyond death
Even if he is not necessarily very talkative, Souldiers remains deftly scripted through the encounter with colorful non-player characters who really play a part in the unfolding of the story. The theme of a mystical world located on the border between life and death is in particular the opportunity to meet valkyries there who are in charge of transferring the souls of the heroes without their true intentions being revealed to us too quickly. Nothing to do with the ubiquitous narration of a Valkyrie Profile, we agree, but the wink remains interesting.
The gaming universe is full of clever finds. The great pyramid is very interesting in its ability to make us lose our sense of direction by multiplying the traps and accesses to unlock. Like the submerged laboratory or the floating module area, a sort of gigantic flying fortress, the game is totally non-linear to the point of not always being very clear in its objectives. It should also be noted that the test version still had a few bugs (inaccessible portion of the map or teleporters that sometimes refused to work) that we hope to see quickly corrected. Overcrowded screens could also sometimes cause slowdowns, especially with save statues.
The power of the elements
The constant acquisition of new types of orbs and relics regularly opens up new possibilities for action that encourage us to return to search each area several times in order to leave nothing behind. Adapting the personalization of our equipment according to the elements that predominate in the different environments of the game is already a first reflex to acquire to put the odds on your side. Because if we don’t necessarily pay too much attention to it in the first levels, the good management of the elements to detect the weaknesses of our opponents is in fact essential in Souldiers. It indeed quickly becomes essential to exploit the vulnerability of enemies (visible with the help of certain accessories) by adapting our equipment accordingly. This means not hesitating to change orbs to be as effective as possible against opponents who are not kidding.
The “lottery” of skills
Leveling up is obviously taken into account and unlocks skills that enrich gameplay techniques a little more each time. It’s a pity that the skill tree does not give any indication of the nature of the most distant techniques because you can never know if your investment will be profitable in the long term… which encourages us to keep our points in reserve.
Too many guns “kills” guns
Like the rest of the game, the music attracts more and more attention as we advance in the adventure, with melodies that effectively reinforce immersion according to the themes addressed. In addition to being particularly full-bodied and offering considerable playing territory, Souldiers knows how to take the time to inject a significant amount of side quests, beyond the countless hidden bonuses useful for progression. Urban areas are also an opportunity to spend hard-earned gold and materials from merchants and blacksmiths to increase the effectiveness of our primary and secondary weapons. Because the discovery of offensive objects such as bombs, lances or poisoned daggers are all subtle ways to expand our attack potential without being able to abuse it. Too bad their large number and the way of selecting them make them so little ergonomic in the heat of the moment. And it’s even more annoying for the potions that you have to scroll through one by one when every hundredth of a second can cost you your life…
Survive at all costs!
The further you advance in Souldiers, the more the game becomes dangerously punitive (a bit like in Elden Ring, by the way…). If the feeling of accomplishment pushes us to surpass ourselves and to persevere, the evolution of the character turns out to be deliberately limited never to give the impression of an affordable title. Checkpoints and save statues are extremely rare in dungeons of unreasonable proportions and where you never feel safe. Getting from point A to point B is often an obstacle course and perseverance is required. No question of launching headlong without knowing how to fight each opponent and how to break through their defense. But since skills are only unlocked bit by bit and upgrades cost a lot of materials, nothing is ever won in advance. The panoply of movements also expands only very slowly through the acquisition of special relics. So you have to be patient before you can control a character with all of his abilities, which makes the progression more and more exhilarating as we approach the end.
- A platform action game that constantly surprises
- The very beautiful use of pixel art
- 3 radically different playable classes
- Modern and demanding combat system
- High but adjustable challenge (3 degrees of difficulty)
- Narrative full of old school references
- Gigantic and labyrinthine maps
- Substantial lifespan, even for a single part
- The class choice dilemma at the start of the game
- The lack of ergonomics in the selection of secondary weapons
- Bugs not yet completely eradicated
- Opening the map is not fast enough
Demanding without ever being totally off-putting or discouraging, Souldiers is highly recommended for all fans of metroidvania pixel art platform action games. Its deliciously retro artistic direction is far from being the only one of its qualities since the game also knows how to renew itself intelligently by offering no less than 3 radically distinct character classes and gigantic maps full of secrets.
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