Cassette Beasts Review

Awesome Mix, Vol. 1
Cassette Beasts Header

I don’t care what anyone says, the 80s will never truly go out of fashion. This is especially true on the island of New Wirral, a multiversal lost-and-never-found that serves as the backdrop to Cassette Beasts — a grown-up Pokémon-like JRPG, where you physically transform into the monsters you ‘catch’ using hi-tech, albeit retro cassette tapes.

You play as Cass, the island’s latest refugee, and start the game washing up on the beach just outside Harbourtown, the island’s main settlement. This is where you meet Kayleigh, your first real ally in this strange and hostile world.

The narrative ark and feel to this game comes with strong Angel Beats vibes, which I absolutely adore, and the writing is second to none, especially if you’re a fan of puns, 80s music and jokes about estate agents being bloodsucking vampires. The game is full of jokes, twists and references to real-world events and locations. The stations of Glowcester Road and Mournington Crescent certainly made me smile.

There is a lot to like about Cassette Beasts beyond the writing, starting with the remarkably in-depth battle system — the backbone of any Pokémon-like RPG. In a nutshell, you walk around the overworld until you either bump into a monster or are spotted by an NPC who wants to fight. Like Pokémon, you have six monsters to your team in the form of ‘tapes’, but a major difference is that your battles are always with a friend alongside you – you and your chosen partner have a tape each, and a pool of four in reserve – and against between one and three opponents.

Cassette Beasts battle

While your overarching goal is to escape New Wirral, let’s be honest here, you’ve also gotta catch ’em all. Get the enemy’s health down low enough and you can use a tape to try and record the enemy and capture it – thematically you’re making a copy. Unlike Pokémon, you actually get to see the percentage chance of success here, which is fantastic, and this figure increases and decreases as damage is dealt in either direction. Once you have recorded the monster onto a tape, you then gain the ability to transform into them.

NPC battles are similar in that it’s a monster vs monster battle, except that sometimes, for no apparent reason, an NPC will be assisted by another monster. Your opponent has two health bars – one red for their main health and green for their current tape’s health – and an unknown number of tapes to transform into. If you break their tape (defeat their monster), they default to human form until the end of the turn. If you beat them in human form, the battle ends, but if you don’t, they can bring out their next tape.

Need to heal your monster? Simply grab a pencil and rewind your tape. (If you’re too young to understand how that works, just trust us; it was a whole thing.) Level it up enough and you can even remix (evolve) the tape.

Cassette Beasts exploration

This is a very compelling way of doing battle, but what of elemental types found within Pokémon? This is replaced with a similar elemental system, but rather than doing super-effective damage, this triggers a chemical reaction. Water attacks can douse Fire types, decreasing their attack stats; Fire, meanwhile, creates a healing steam if it hits a Water type, so don’t do that. Similarly, Fire melts Ice, turning an Ice type into a Water type, but smack the Water type with an Ice attack and it will Freeze over. The monster type determines the attack type, so this opens up a range of strategic possibilities.

But it doesn’t end there. If a Metal type hits a Poison type with a physical attack, it adds a poison coat to its weapon, which it can use to poison the next thing it attacks. The depth of this system is nothing short of brilliant, and dozens of hours into the game you’ll still be finding new types and combos to add to your in-game strategies.

Cassette Beasts is a veritable onion of these Pokémon-like game mechanics, but they’ve been adapted and rethought into a new form. Shinies appear as bootlegs, but instead of simply being a different colour, they’re a different type as well. Recording certain monsters actually confers you with that monster’s ability, making you into your own HM slave along the way that feeds into open-world puzzle mechanics, but can also be used as a sneak attack move to initiate combat. Catch Bulletino and you can smash through boulders, and can kick off a fight with enemies taking a fire-based attack. Just be careful not to dash into an Air type monster, which will trigger an updraft and immediately create a three-hit shield for them.

Cassette Beasts open world exploration

In true RPG fashion, some of the chests you find while exploring hide, not rewards, but powerful Rogue Fusion mini-bosses — literal fusions of two monsters — that jump out and attack you. If you feel a little overwhelmed, you can fuse with your second character to level the playing field. You can also do this in normal battles if you feel like upping the ante. Anything can fuse with anything, leaving you with a whopping 14400 fusions to find.

Cassette tapes aside, you may be wondering why this game is so 80s. Circling back, New Wirral is a multiversal catch-all for those who ‘fall through the cracks’ and go missing from their reality. These people come from a variety of worlds and realities, and a variety of time periods too. One character who left their world in 1989 wonders why everyone is clamouring for the ‘internet’, and innocently asks that if people use it through their phones, is it a way of talking to people? Other characters yearn for technology we can’t yet conceive of.

But it’s not just people on New Wirral. The island also attracts certain buildings. The mall on the north of the island, for example, fell out of the 1980s in one reality, and has become the sole source of new clothes for the island’s denizens. Speaking of souls, a race of vampire real estate agents (blood suckers that they are) also made it to the island. These are the quintessential low-key villains of the piece, keen on setting up a currency on the island – and in lieu of that, they’re take Souls (currency where they’re from).

Cassette Beasts attack

The biggest missed trick here, I’d wager, is that given the importance of cassette tapes and therefore music in the game, the lack of a diverse soundtrack based on monster types is a bit of a disappointment, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The soundtrack is sublime as is, and it ramps up for things like boss battles or when entering the café you call home, adding lyrical layers that truly make this game shine. In some ways it makes me feel it’s what Persona 5 would have sounded like if it went for pop rather than jazz, and that is high praise indeed.

At this point, all that’s left is the occasional bug that put a dampener on things — the occasional crash, not being able to change my outfit… enough that I can’t give an otherwise phenomenal game a perfect score.

Cassette Beasts is simply one of the best Pokémon-like games I’ve come across, and I’m looking forward to earning a 100% completion. With a massive end-game and modder support built in at release though, I feel like I’m going to get very sidetracked on the way there.
  • Writing and world-building are excellent
  • The soundtrack will blow you away
  • The battle system is deep and intricate
  • The collection system has perfectly depth at 120 monsters
  • Modder support from launch
  • Some occasional bugs
Written by
Barely functional Pokémon Go player. Journalist. Hunter of Monster Hunter monsters. Drinks more coffee than Alan Wake.