80s pop culture has been gaining momentum in a big way in recent years, between things like the mega popular Stranger Things and the ever-expanding – and much deserved – popularity of synthwave in the music scene. The decade was rich with shows, films, songs, and everything in between that people young and old look upon fondly, so the idea to structure a game around these influences, as Fourattic’s Crossing Souls does, should be a master stroke. And this holds true, at least in part.
Crossing Souls is a top-down brawler/platformer/puzzle game in Devolver Digital’s well-trodden pixelated art style. You control a group of five kids, with varying strengths; you get the tomboy, the strong one, the “normal” one, the nerd, and the nuisance. They discover a strange, ancient stone with fascinating properties that allows them to see the spirits of the deceased, who exist on a different plane of existence. The story functions as a mashup of just about every 80s movie that’s important to pop culture you can think of. There are references large and small ranging from smaller stuff, like the weird decontamination tunnels from E.T. to less than subtle things, like when you encounter a side-quest that is literally the plot of Poltergeist, trimmed down to a couple of minutes long. This reverence to the pop culture of the 80s is far and away the strongest aspect of the game, as many of the references and jokes are clever or just plain fun to see unfold. A particular standout in this aspect is a pair of boss fights around the game’s midpoint that are enemies from each of the two Ghostbusters films.
That being said, cracks in the hull start to appear once you look past the game’s fondness for the 80s. Each of the kids in the group has a different unique ability, and there are some puzzles that require cycling between each character to accomplish your goals. The problem is that these are few and far between. More often than not you can plough through areas using just one of the characters, which is a shame. The puzzles that require this juggling act are the most interesting gameplay portions of the title, and it’s especially disappointing in the back half of the game. Using the mysterious stone to visit the dead is taken out of the equation almost entirely, and the size of your party dwindles, as the last chunk of the game is a relatively uninspired mishmash of irritating platforming sections and decidedly boring beat-'em-up segments. While the puzzles themselves are never exactly challenging, they are fun and satisfying to complete, regardless of the difficulty.
The game is at its best when it prioritises puzzles and cleverness – which shines through in the environments as well, since the puzzles utilise the surroundings – but it’s downright confounding that this is thrown away, to be replaced with mundanity for the final act. Mercifully, the narrative holds strong for the last mad dash to the finish line, but imagine if the act of playing that stretch were as satisfying as the narrative. Not only that, but the game introduces quite a large number of mechanics, or combinations of mechanics, only to return to them maybe once, or never again in many cases. If some of the combat were trimmed out, and replaced by more layered, complicated puzzles as the game approached its conclusion, the actual gameplay would be a far more satisfying aspect of the title than it ends up being. It’d certainly be more entertaining than mashing the square button incessantly for two hours.
Okay, the combat isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it’s a testament to the other facets of this game that despite that, the title is still worth your time. Like we said, its pop culture fondness is a big selling point, and this extends to the art direction as well. The game’s vibrant colour palette is delightful, and its cutscenes are glorious. They're in the style of 80s cartoons such as He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, complete with static and tracking issues, and the game is honestly almost worth it just to see these little snippets of magnificence.
Another of the game’s best assets is, of course, its music. The creative might of Chris Köbke and synthwave artist Timecop1983 results in a score that offers both a glorious synthwave sound, as well as something that could pass for Alan Silvestri’s Back to the Future score.
Crossing Souls is an interesting title. Absolutely in love with the pop culture of the 1980s, the title wears this love on its sleeve, and the charm of that is undeniable. Unfortunately, while the writing, art, music, and references are great, the gameplay peters out rather quickly. After a strong first couple of hours, full of interesting and layered puzzles, the last half of the title quickly devolves into no more than a collection of platforming and melee combat scenarios with little else to keep you going. The end result is game that’s fun and entertaining despite its gameplay, not because of it.