We tend to shine our spotlight on big budget AAA games or those that come out of independent developers from the UK, but it’s very rare that we get an invitation to see what’s happening in publishing houses from Eastern Europe. At a recent event in Warsaw, Fat Dog Games showcased some of the talented developers from Poland.
You may have already seen our review of Exorder from last week, and we’ll be looking at the bleak platformer Dream Alone soon, but Sand is the Soul from one man team MGP Studios is an intriguing take on the beat ’em up genre with a distinct flare for good measure.
Sand is the Soul is relatively ambitious in its design, with a character that looks a lot like Jotaro Kujo from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure – this is purely coincidental, we were told – on a mission to deliver a letter. It’s displayed a lot like an old school beat ’em up, like Streets of Rage or Final Fight only with branching paths.
Where things get interesting is that the game can be drastically different depending on the actions and decisions the player makes. Did you read the letter you were sent to deliver? If so, the game just got a lot harder. Did you attack this unassuming NPC? Now everyone he knows will want to kill you on sight.
There’s also a neat concept in the form of hallucinations, where consuming too much sand introduces trippy visuals. We sadly didn’t get a great deal of time to explore a great deal of the features outside the initial area, but if the game truly has everything that was mentioned, which from the brief demonstration shown beforehand seems likely, this would be a game with unprecedented scope.
As ambitious as some of it sounds though, it’s got some peculiar design choices. The heavily pixelated art style makes it quite hard to pick out details and might not appeal to all, but it is a bit easier to pick out the action when the game is in motion.
The main issue for me at this time is with the game’s controls and the combat in general. While it was unfortunate that the gamepad controls just didn’t work in the build I tested, which Fat Dog have promised will be optimised, the keyboard controls were perhaps the weirdest I’ve ever encountered. The game is currently only targeting a PC release, heading into Steam Early Access on 11th May, but it would still benefit from catering for gamepads.
Movement is handled by the WASD keys, but attacking is done with the left or right arrows, while up and down have similarly odd functionality. Attacking in general is surprisingly clumsy as it takes an eternity to execute moves, making it remarkably hard to hit anything that isn’t standing still. I get that these games are meant to be hard, but attacking at times felt like swatting at a persistent fly.
Talking to NPCs also requires a button combination, which is frankly that little bit pretentious, and harkens back to the 1990’s where a silly combination of buttons is required to progress through the game. In Batman Forever on the SNES, for example, throwing a grappling hook was done by pressing select followed by up on the controller.
I have to call it as I see it, and as it stands Sand is the Soul has quite a lot of ground to make up in Early Access. That’s part of the plan though, and through Early Access, MGP will be porting the game to from the Construct2 engine to Unity. It has every chance of being a delightfully involved experience and certainly has some great ideas, but if the controls and combat feel off, players will end up dropping the game completely. In this case, that would be a huge shame.
Thanks to Fat Dog Games for hosting us in Warsaw for this event.