You’d probably assume, having just been yeeted out of my skinsuit by a giant of a man wielding an absurdly large hammer, that I was about to die, but you’d be wrong. You see, in Mortal Shell, you are not just the clothes you wear, but the person that wears them. You’re a weird skinless Foundling, and you’ve got the incredible ability to jump into any of the vaguely sturdy-looking corpses you find lying about.
It’s a fresh twist that means that if you die once, instead of actually dying, you simply leave the body you were inhabiting. You can then jump back into your body for one more go and this allows you to get straight back into the fight, or, if you’re unlucky, to instantly get shot in the back and die for real.
Mortal Shell is definitely a Soulslike. It’s filled with dread, a constant sense of unease, and literally every enemy can and will kill you if you let them. It’s hard, but it’s also satisfying, for the most part. The unique mechanics at play here are a lot of fun, and both the shell system, which lets you effectively choose and switch between classes, and the harden system, which makes you temporarily invulnerable, are a lot of fun.
While you can switch between shells fairly easily, it didn’t take my little pale skinny dude long to find his forever home inside a person with a skull face called Tiel. In life, Tiel was a mystery, and in death, not much has changed. As you level up each shell and play with them for longer, you discover a bit more about them, and you can get pretty attached to them.
Tiel is very much the thief, the rogue of the small group of shells available for you to choose from. He’s got an obscene stamina pool, the lowest health of the bunch, and some very cool mechanics involving poison. You might prefer one of the warrior types, or maybe even the scholar, but for me, I like dodging and hitting fast, and Tiel is perfect for that.
Alongside the paucity of shells, there aren’t many weapons either, and finding your perfect weapon is also essential. The sword you start out with is good and all, and while the big old sword is great and the flaming mace is fun, my heart will always belong to the hammer and chisel. You see, it’s fast, and that’s all I need. Also, the special attack fires out a ring of gigantic nails at enemies, and boy is that great.
Now, once you’ve found a weapon and shell that suit you, things get easier, but the game is never easy. That’s in part due to some questionable enemy placement (there are constant “gotchas” around every corner) and in part due to some very scarce healing mechanics. Now, that’s fine, I like hard games, but it can also make some of the big boss fights intensely aggravating.
Thankfully, the design of the bosses, both in terms of combat and the visuals, is excellent. Each one is completely different, and each one will have you going “oh, that’s cool” and “goddamnitnotagain!” It’s basically everything you want from bosses in a Soulslike, and it might be where Mortal Shell is at its strongest.
Speaking of the visuals, this game is astoundingly pretty. Even the horribly murky areas still look incredible, but one area, in particular, is like a gothic Escher painting. Naturally, that means that the horrors that await you are along a similar vein too, but hey, that’s not a bad thing.
Mortal Shell is a very strong game, but I’ve got a few of gripes with it, mostly to do with there being just loads of enemies in some areas as a difficulty spike. It’s a very straightforward way of upping the difficulty, and I’m not a huge fan of it in this genre. There are also a couple of little bugs, one of which robbed me of the ability to dodge, which turned out to be lethal very quickly.