Light twinkles across the surface of puddles, creating little shimmers of glass in the air as the warm rays of sunlight beam down through the mountain passes. Deep in the long grass, amidst the yellows and blues of unknown flowers, scampers tiny lifeforms away from the heavy tread of my feet. On distant trees, insects scurry across the bark in the orderly lines. Staring into the distance, watching the light splay across the mountains while distant flocks of birds glide across the sky, I marvel at the splendour around me, the verdant colours of nature unleashed in a kaleidoscopic explosion. More than once, I’ve stopped like this. More than once I’ve forgotten that, just beyond every quiet moment in Souldiers, lurks something out to kill me.
You may think I’m waxing far too much lyrical over the visual quality of Souldiers, but it’s difficult not to. You see, Souldiers isn’t just a good looking game, it’s one of the best looking 2D pixel art games I’ve ever seen. Which is high praise indeed in such a crowded genre.
It’s probably a strange way to start a review, focusing on a game’s visuals before even mentioning what said game is all about. But, looking at Souldiers in motion, or even static, is a simply jaw-dropping experience. Whether it’s the multiple layers of art that merge together to create the sense of receding depth, or the stunning animation for every sprite in the game that complements the gorgeous character designs, Souldiers is art in motion.
Of course, none of that would truly matter if the game didn’t back up its visuals with compelling gameplay and/or a compelling story. Thankfully, Souldiers fires on all cylinders and hits far more than it misses.
Developed by Retro Forge, Souldiers is a 16-bit 2D Soulslike Metroidvania RPG. It’s set in Terragaya, a melting pot of an afterlife, in which souls go when claimed by Valkyries. Souldiers sees you and you’re regiment granted access to Terragaya by a Valkyrie after getting trapped in a cave-in. All you have to do is help the Valkyrie with her task. The only wrinkle is that you’re not actually dead. And as you’re soon to learn, the afterlife can be just as dangerous as the one you’ve just left. The dead can, it seems, die again…
Souldiers drops you into a gorgeous, sprawling Metroidvania world which – as far as Metroidvania’s go – is a little more linear than I was expecting. There is the usual backtracking to access new secrets once you’ve gained the appropriate ability but, despite the size of the world, it’s not nearly as labyrinthine as I expected.
You can choose to be a Scout, Archer, or Caster. The Scout acts as your melee tank, focusing on close-quarters combat. The Archer is, as the name suggests, an expert in ranged damage with a special skill that lets you use your bow as a boomerang to recharge your arrows faster. Finally, the Caster is your magician, focusing on high damage output at the expense of a smaller health pool.
Each class has their own playstyle, making a real difference in how you approach combat and providing incentive for replays. Your character levels up in the traditional manner, gaining XP from enemies to bump your stats up by one point each level, and granting you Mastery points to spend in the skill tree. There’s a handful of skills for each class and it is of paramount importance that you master these if you want to survive Terragaya.
Souldiers is, you see, quite challenging. There are three difficulty settings to choose from and, even at the easiest level, death comes quite often. The combat system requires you to master your character move-set, possess some twitch reflexes for combat and platforming, and learn your enemies’ move-sets if you really want to be successful. While there’s a slower pace when exploring the world, combat is fast, brutal, and often incorporates platforming in the equation if you want to reach some foes. Throw in some elemental abilities, with enemies vulnerable to one or the other, and you really have to be on your toes. The stamina bar governs your ability to block, leaving you open when your guard has been broken; while your dodge roll – which is different per class – has a cooldown before you can use it again (the Archers dodge is wonderfully acrobatic).
If this makes you wary, worry not, for the developers have taken some steps to help you on your way. Most enemies and items that you can destroy in the world will drop health orbs and money, saving those rarer healing potions that you have to buy or find. There’s also no penalty for death, other than respawning at one of the game’s many checkpoints. Once these are activated, you can fast travel between them and, most importantly, save at any time. Saving replenishes your health bar but, of course, respawns some of the world’s enemies.
When you’re not fighting your way across the map, you can pick up sidequests and bounties to complete. Along with a variety of scrolls to read and a codex to delve into, it really helps to flesh out Terragaya’s world while also stocking the game full of content. You’ll rarely be left wondering what to do.
A special shout out to the developers for getting a Metroidvania map right. When you encounter locked doors or chests, they’re automatically marked on your map in whatever state you found or left them in. This reduced the need to backtrack systematically, to find a treasure I couldn’t reach or a door I lacked a key for way back when immensely. I always hope a dev at least allows me to place my own points on a map in any game that has massive locations to explore, but a game automatically doing so is a major plus point.
Souldiers only suffers in one area for me, and that is the feeling of cheapness at times. Usually, it’s a combination of the level design and painful enemy placement that made getting through some areas a chore.
Initially, there was also the problem of long load times and long save times with the review build provided but a patch has thankfully taken care of those two issues. The game loads much faster now and there’s a splash screen when saving, which takes significantly less time to disappear.
Ultimately, Retro Forge’s Souldiers isn’t just one of the best looking games I’ve played this year, it’s one of the best period. Featuring a fantastical and beautiful world, three classes that feel distinct, massive maps to explore, intriguing characters to encounter, and plenty of sidequests to take on – this journey will suck away your time with ease, as it did mine. Souldiers isn’t a game you should think about getting, it’s a game you should get. This game deserves to be a part of your gaming library, especially if you love the Metroidvania genre and pixel art.
A Review code for Souldiers was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher.
Souldiers (Switch) ReviewSouldiers (Switch) Review
Story8/10 Very Good
Visuals10/10 The Best
Audio8/10 Very Good
- Gorgeous backdrops and animation
- Massive world to explore
- A map that does things right
- Tough but exciting combat
- Some cheap enemy placement