I missed the 80s by about 58 days. Despite this I have seen almost all of the era’s notable films, so the recent revival of 80s, whether in movies and TV or the geopolitical threat of Russia, still fills me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Setting your story in this decade allows you to take advantage of nostalgia, but it also allows you take themes like friendship, conspiracies, and children in mortal peril and mix them with tongue-in-cheek silliness.
An action adventure set primarily in a rural American town, the story is as 80s as possible, following a group of five young teens as they risk life and limb trying to defend their family and friends from a mysterious company that thirsts for world domination. Events are kicked into action by the customary walkie-talkie, as Chris’ younger brother, Kevin, has snuck out of the house and found something in the forest by the town that he must show his brother. After gathering three friends – Matt, Charlie and Joe – they meet Kevin and they uncover a corpse holding a mysterious glowing stone called the Duat. With some technical wizardry from Matt, this stone allows them to see and speak to ghosts with a tap of the right trigger.
The game weaves tropes and homages into its being. Sometimes you’ll come across something simple like a collectable tape called “The Buster Ghosts,” while later you find yourself almost re-enacting memorable scenes, or stumbling upon them, like a house that appears to be haunted by the poltergeist from, well, Poltergeist. References here are often more than just mentioning something from the 80s, and many of them are part of the main plot line and even the collectables have nice descriptions, such as the aforementioned Ghostbusters tape.
As is common in children-led 80s movies, Matt is very smart. In fact, he literally has rocket boots and a laser gun that he designed himself. Each of the kids is one of these distinct archetypes and the effect isn’t just with the story and dialogue, it extends to the gameplay. Matt’s rocket boots can be used to hover over longer distances, while “Big” Joe can use his large frame to move heavy objects, Chris can climb ladders and vine-covered walls, and Charlie can use her skipping rope to catapult herself around the level.
You will also end up with a ghost character to control. Bound to the right bumper, switching to the ghost will leave the other characters where they are. In this post-life state, you can walk through locked doors, won’t be attacked by enemies, and can pick up items that are then instantaneously available to the living members of the group, such as keys with which to open locked doors.
Where it stumbles is with the character relationships and the friendship that these kids supposedly share isn’t really communicated too well for most of the game. We are just told that they are friends, they make a few jokes, then once in a while the game remember’s the friendship angle for a few minutes. The overarching storyline itself is entertaining to watch and quite interesting, even if only for the homages, but on a character level the interactions occasionally don’t make sense and often don’t sell the feeling of a real friendship.
You only control one of the characters at a time, with the rest of the party hidden, but you can tap the left bumper to cycle through to whichever character you need for the situation. If one character loses all their health though, it’s game over, so you’d better be careful, as there are plenty of ways to lose health. Often you will miss a jump and land in some water, at which point you’ll be teleported back to land and lose a little chunk of one of your hearts, but mostly it’ll be from combat.
You will face everything from street gangs to ghostly apparitions using the game’s simple real time combat system. You can dodge with the right stick and attack with a button, all while keeping an eye on your stamina. With four characters who can fight, you can pick the one that fits the situation best. Joe, for example, has the most health and deals the most damage, but he’s a little slower and his stamina runs out a bit quicker, whereas Matt with his laser gun is the only one who can attack from range, though it doesn’t deal as much damage.
It works well enough, but fights do begin to feel a bit repetitive, which is not helped at all by the limited selection of enemies. You’ll find yourself fighting the same ghosts throughout most of the game, as well as spiders or rats appearing in areas where other enemies wouldn’t make sense, but the main issue is really that they are not particularly challenging. Almost any room full of rats or spiders has you just pressing the attack button a few times until they stop running at you, which would be fine if it wasn’t so common, but there is a ghostly enemy with the same behaviour that falls only slightly more slowly. The more interesting variations, such as spiders that shoot webs that slows you down, are far rarer than they should be.
The brightest spots for combat are the bosses, as they can be creative. One has you playing Simon between rounds of fighting ghosts, damaging the boss when correct, while another boss wanders around between bookcases, turning the floor beneath your feet into fire when it sees you. They are pretty creative and fun to find your way through. Again, they aren’t all that challenging, perhaps due to the simple nature of the game’s combat, though they’re certainly trickier than the regular combat. Annoyingly, they are often preceded by cutscenes that you must rewatch if you die and have to reload.
All this is presented in good old 80s pixel art from an angled top-down camera, similar to the angle in the classic 2D Legend of Zelda games, which is charming if you like pixellated things, but introduces a couple of issues. It isn’t a great angle for platforming, occasionally resulting in missing platforms or hitting walls, and it isn’t great for combat, as enemies can occasionally be hidden behind the bottom wall making them difficult to fight due to, well, not being visible. I also noticed that I was able to hit objects through vertical walls in certain areas, as well as an occasional graphical bug where objects immediately behind my character, like a TV on a table, appeared in front of the character’s face.
Cartoon cutscenes come in the style of 80s cartoons which, again, is charming if you liked 80s cartoons. I didn’t watch them, but I can’t imagine there was anywhere near as many compression artefacts in them as there is in the cutscenes present in Crossing Souls. The cartoons are almost invariable very short as well, most of them less than thirty seconds, some even fewer than five, making them so short their inclusion seems inconsequential.
With more depth to the combat, Crossing Souls could be a great game. As it stands, though, the lack of difficulty means that the only reason to drive forward is the story, so a recommendation relies heavily on your view of the 80s and reference-heavy stories set during that decade.
Version tested: PlayStation 4