Review: “6Souls” (Nintendo Switch)

Sometime I wonder if I’m getting too old for this s#!+…

Last week, Ratalaika Games released 6Souls for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, SeXbox and Steam PC. Developed by BUG-Studio, 6Souls is a 2D platformer with challenging level design and retro-inspired aesthetics.*

6Souls begins as Jack and his faithful dog Butch set off to do some treasure hunting in Clifford Castle. Soon after arriving, the two realize that something sinister is afoot, as they discover that the Clifford family members all had their souls imprisoned by a mysterious, cloaked wizard named Zelrot Grim.

Deceptively easy first stage, but pretty green backgrounds

You’ll begin your adventure with only your trusty canine companion and a brittle, old sword. While you will obtain a bow and arrow later in the game, the key element of Jack’s move set is the “soul dash”, which allows him allows him to dash in any direction mid-air. This ability is unlocked once you defeat the first boss and free the first trapped Clifford family soul. Defeat more bosses, free more souls, and upgrade you soul dash, and you’ll be able to zip through the air five times without ever touching the ground.

As you progress through the different areas of Clifford castle, you’ll have to overcome a number of traps, hazards, and enemies. The enemy list isn’t terribly inspired – mostly typical, fantasy fare: bats, slimes, skeletons, Mario-esque piranha plants, goblins, books, and spiders of many kinds. As it turns out, most of these enemies won’t pose much of a threat to you, at least compared to the other traps and platforming hazards. You can traverse most stages by jumping over or dashing past them, so all the effort you might put into learning to block or time attacks isn’t time well spent.

The bosses, however, are another story. They include a giant slime, the “King Goblin”, Monster Book, a werewolf, the Ghost Knight (which was the hardest boss in the game), and finally the big bad himself, Zelrot Grim. These battles will take much more effort on your part to land good hits, and your best chance for success is to patiently wait for the best opportunity and not force an attack. You only get three hits, after all, and there is no way to recover your health until you move on to the next stage.

The Monster Book ate my homework

The biggest challenge in 6Souls (other than the Ghost Knight), comes from the platforming. There are many tricky sequences that can end in instant death if your timing isn’t just right, and many of these had me starting to question if I was indeed “getting too old for this s#!+”, as I’m now post-40 and perhaps my reflexes and patience simply aren’t what they used to be. The diagonal dashing was tough to master, and I wish that there was a way to remap the controller (I always wanted “R” to be the soul dash, and it was instead the wall grab). The button layout may very well have been optimal given the action in the game, but unfortunately, there is no control configuration in the options to test it any other way.

How did I die? Let me count the ways. Here’s how long the first few stages took me to complete, along with my death count in each (yes, the game tracks this for you):

  1. The Forest – 6:01, 3 deaths
  2. The Dungeon – 10:49, 3 deaths
  3. Clifford Castle – 19:38, 26 deaths
  4. The Library – 46:34, 110 deaths
  5. The Alchemy Lab – 48:43, 121 deaths

See where this is going? 6Souls has a pretty steep difficulty curve in area 4, and traversing the stages becomes pretty darn challenging. Fortunately, the game gives you a bit of a breather in stage 6, where you take control of Butch the dog after he is separated from Jack. He doesn’t have any attacks or crazy abilities, but he can double jump and slide behind boxes to hide from enemies (plus he barks). This stage is just one of several other areas in 6Souls where you take control of Butch to obtain keys or solve puzzles The fact that I very rarely had any issue with Butch’s sequences helped to restore my faith in my gamer skillz. It really was only the frantic zipping of the soul dash that was beating me down (and the Ghost Knight boss). Overall, 6Souls is not as tough as Super Meat Boy or Gunpowder on the Teeth, by comparison.

Who’s a good boi?!??

Graphically, 6Souls has a retro-inspired, pixelated look, and you are either charmed by it or tired of that aesthetic, depending on your own taste. I can say that Jack has some smooth animations, and while the stages aren’t remarkably detailed, each one has a unique look and it’s usually easy enough to see hazards, which is what’s most important.

On the sound side, the music is a good match for the onscreen action, and doesn’t ever get too annoying, but you’re not going to be begging for a CD soundtrack or even humming it to yourself later. The sound effects all work well, too, and I most appreciate the “whoosh” sound of the soul dash. I also found the garbled language of the characters to be endearing, as it reminded me of the pilot jabber in the original Star Fox on Super Nintendo.

Shoot. Him. In. The. Face.

As far as wrapping up the nitpicks, the final boss sequence includes areas where the screen is continually moving, except it doesn’t typically move fast enough to keep up with your own movement, so you’ll end up dying somewhat unfairly from not being able to progress forward at a predictable rate. Jack also says “Damn!” a lot. Sure, it’s not the naughtiest word in the world, but it’s not used for any particular effect, like humor. It’s just sort of said over and over, and it adds nothing. I’m really not a prude, but for a game that could easily be played and enjoyed by kids, I’d suggest leaving it out for a more creative catch phrase.

The plot thickens through flashbacks

6Souls automatically saves your progress, you have infinite lives and retries, and the checkpoints/stages are fairly forgiving, for the most part. That still isn’t any guarantee that you will complete the game, but you’ve got more than a fair shot, given all those features. If you do complete the game, you open a new training area (Jack’s house), where you can practice your combat. You can also see how many of the game’s extra collectibles you’ve collected throughout the game (coins in Jack’s sections and bacon in Butch’s sections). I managed to get all of the bacon on my first play through, but some of those coins are certainly in tricky spots. If you want a more advanced test of your skills, you also unlock an extra “Adventure Mode” when you complete the game, which promises an even more difficult challenge.

Yes, the wind is blowing against you

Do I recommend 6Souls? If you are either impatient with spikes in difficulty or tired of the retro-inspired aesthetics used in 6Souls, I can’t suggest that you dive in. If instead you still like a very well-done pixelated platformer that will fiercely test your skills, 6Souls is a good fit. If you’re an achievement/trophy hunter, there are some extremely easy ones to collect in here, too. Plus there’s a dog, and dogs always make games better.

So, am I getting too old for this s#!+? Am I ready to pack it all in for a gig reviewing walking simulators at Polygon or Kotaku? Nah. I still persevered, and I beat the game, so I’m still overqualified for those two outlets.

6Souls is available now for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, SeXbox and Steam PC.

*Disclosure: A copy of 6Souls was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.

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