What would you get if you took the basic idea behind Castlevania of a sprawling castle location to explore, stripped it down to focusing on near pixel-perfect platforming, challenging boss fights, and further broke each area up into sub-levels with each one built around the powers you successively gain? That was a mouthful but Bug Studios’ 6Souls is what you’d get.
Join Jack and his dog Butch as they search for the abandoned Clifford Castle to find that sweet, sweet loot. Unfortunately for them, the Castle was abandoned for a good reason and before you can say evil is afoot, Jack and Butch are embroiled in a supernatural affair that will take them from the deepest depths of the castle to its highest tower, searching for a way to rescue the Clifford family from the clutches of an evil sorcerer.
It’s a simple and intriguing concept that channels shades of Castlevania, but 6Souls isn’t a Metroidvania. Instead of a large open world to explore, the developers have opted for a world and level-by-level approach, reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. Each area of the game is themed, such as the library, the dungeon, etc., and each area is broken down into smaller sublevels (think World 1-1 then World 1-2 and so forth). Reaching the end of one section pops you right into the next, with your stat count for collectible objects, time taken, and amount of deaths shown when you pick your game file and then choose a level.
Initially, Clifford Castle looms ominously over the landscape as you make your way towards it and learn to control Jack. The basic move set is nothing you haven’t seen before. You can jump, block, attack with a sword, wall jump, climb up walls for short periods, and slide down them as well. The most important tool in your arsenal, though you may not know it in the beginning, is your binoculars that are used to scope out each area. They’ll become indispensable later down the line when you have to start planning your moves carefully. Your trusty sidekick, Butch, isn’t just for show either. Even though he spends most of his time in Jack’s backpack, Butch is every bit as important as Jack as you will have to swop between the two in almost every area. Butch can squeeze into areas Jack can’t and has a double jump. Butch can’t fight though, so you have to be careful with him.
Once you reach Clifford Castle and its twisting passageways and spike-lined walls and floor, you begin to see why mastering the basics is so important. There’s very little room for error and it only becomes harder once you start picking up the games titular Souls that grant you omni-directional dashes. What starts easily enough with one dash – which you can use in the air and recharges when you touch the ground – becomes more complicated as you pick up a second and a third, with each area designed around linking these moves together. It’s not so far-fetched to say that at points you’ll be continuously air-drifting over corners to reach a safe area. Platforming is a one-hit-kill affair though. Any of the spikes or other environmental hazards will pop you right back to the beginning of the area. Thankfully, there are no load times between respawns.
It’s a compliment to the developer’s designs that 6Souls is an absolutely addictive experience. The near-perfect pixel platforming that is needed never once had me wanting to switch off my console or wish I could throw it against a wall. Instead, each platforming section I died at had me obsessively retrying until I got it right. All because I wanted to and, not because I had to. Each completed section felt like a mini fist-pumping victory. Suffice to say, my thumbstick received an incredible workout.
As a more platforming-orientated experience, combat takes a back seat to the high-flying shenanigans. Yes, there are enemies in each area but there’s a limited amount of them and, ultimately, they’re more obstacles to overcome. It’s entirely possible to skip fighting them, with combat properly reserved for the game’s bosses.
Jack has three health bars and can usually block three attacks, unless it’s a big one. If your block is broken you stagger for a brief moment but that’s usually enough to receive grievous damage. The trick to effectively beating the bosses is to use your dashes during the boss fights to either avoid attacks or reach areas that drop a boss’s shield, along with memorising their attack patterns of course. The Monster Book boss in the library, for instance, can be beaten without taking a hit if you time your moves and dashes correctly to both avoid his projectile attacks and reach the books that are shielding him. Once his shield drops, he staggers, and this is when you wail on him and repeat until dead.
Visually, 6Souls is a very pretty looking 2D pixel-art affair though by now the art style will be familiar to everyone who’s dipped their toes into the indie platforming scene. Animations are well done throughout with a nice fluidity of motion for Jack. On the audio side, the game has a pretty catchy soundtrack, while the characters speak in a gibberish language with dialogue text boxes to fill us in.
Once you’ve completed the game you will unlock Adventure Mode, which is a harder version of the campaign with one hit kills throughout. However, by the time you’ve finished the campaign the first time around, you should actually already be used to that through the platforming alone.
In theory, 6Souls is the sort of game that should have had me clenching my teeth. Yet the short levels, with their challenging and interesting design, kept me coming back for more, regardless of how many times I unwittingly let Jack meet the business end of a spike. Fans of challenging platformers should certainly not let this budget indie gem slip under their radar.
A review code for 6Souls was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher
6Souls (Nintendo Switch) Review6Souls (Nintendo Switch) Review
- Wonderfully short but entertaining level design
- Failure is your fault