It’s kind of interesting how a sudden pop culture phenomenon can cause you to look at another piece of entertainment differently. I had last played Crossing Souls back at E3 in 2015, and back then the comparisons and influences were quite obvious, as it was an homage to ’80s family adventure films – primarily The Goonies – but with more of a supernatural twist, as a band of young heroes in the 1980s find themselves suddenly having access to mysterious and creepy new dimensions while dealing with shady government conspiracies. Simple enough, but then the Summer of 2016 happened, and suddenly it becomes harder and harder to look at a game like this and not think STRANGER THINGS STRANGER THINGS STRANGER THINGS
Obviously, Crossing Souls was in development well before Stranger Things became a surprise hit, but chatting with the developers, even they were surprised at how many coincidental similarities showed up in elements between their game and the Netflix sci-fi series, at least when it came to the basic plot elements. But let’s just pretend it’s 2015 again, the world hasn’t become a dumpster fire, and we have nothing to direct compare things to. Even on its own, Crossing Souls shows signs of having quite the engaging story, as out ragtag group of kids comes across the Duat Stone, which can shift planes between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. As expected, this opens the door for some intriguing interactions with a few spirits and some battles with those who want get the stone by any means possible for their own purposes, with endless possibilities.
Immediately heading out the front door with main character Chris into their pixelated Californian town, we automatically get a hefty look into a society drenched with ’80s culture, from the arcades to the local cinemas and the one house that has a little girl staring into a TV showing static. The Easter eggs are in abundance here, unsurprisingly, but the end result is still a gleefully retro world in both the era and the visuals that captures the exact type of Hill Valley-esque community seen in films from the day (although there is one slight slip-up when a reference is made to “crisps” instead of “chips,” reflecting the Spanish-based developer Fourattic).
The demo on display gave visitors a general introduction to all of our heroes, as Chris rounds them up by traversing around town and assisting them, getting used to their abilities as they come along, such as being able to slingshot across long distances or move heavy objects around. Each character has their own unique form of combat as well, and you can switch between any of them on the fly, be it for the need to solve puzzles or to just switch to a different plan of attack when dealing with foes like the local gang members. The Zelda influence is high here as well when it comes to action segments and exploration, and the gameplay in general has the same classic and enjoyable feel as other classic top-down titles, with each different ability being fun to use.
At the end of the demo, the story began proper by quite appropriately evoking another ’80s reference in our heroes deciding to hike out and check out a dead body, in a bit of a Stand By Me homage, where the Duat Stone is discovered. But yeah, the Stranger Things parallels are still a bit unavoidable, but so far it definitely seems like Crossing Souls deserves just as much success. Regardless of what you compare it to, this is a rapturous binge of ’80s nostalgia (which even extended to the booth itself, decked out in ALF lunchboxes, NES consoles, and Tom Selleck pillows) that also makes for one damn fine game, and it is not to be missed out on when it comes out later this year for PC and PlayStation 4.