Game Review: 6 Souls

There’s something about a pixel-art game that really draws me in. It’s most probably a tinge of nostalgia for ‘the good old days’ that appeals to me. When 6 Souls, from developer BUG-Studio and publisher Ratalaika Games, came up for review, I watched about thirty seconds of the trailer and knew this was a game I wanted to get my hands on.

“Uncover the Clifford family disappearance!

Embark on an exciting journey to find the abandoned Clifford Castle and uncover its secrets!

Our heroes, adventure enthusiasts Jack and his faithful dog companion Butch, go on an exciting quest to find an abandoned castle where the entire Clifford family vanished years ago. The whole castle is surrounded by mystery, from its dark dungeons to its highest towers.

While discovering new rooms, our heroes will learn fascinating details about the Clifford family, meet the castle’s peculiar residents and uncover its secrets.”

6 Souls is an all action-platformer that sees you playing as Jack and his dog Butch. Exploring a strange and mysterious castle (in search of treasure) that has more than a few secrets. Taking place over eighty levels in eight unique locations, with each locale ending in a classic boss fight. I’m not going to get into the story here as there are some really interesting things that could be spoiled, but I will just say that the plot has more than a few twists and turns that certainly make it worth paying attention to.

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Playing through 6 Souls really did take me back to that mid to late-eighties era of console gaming. It looks and feels like a Master System/NES title but with a few modern tweaks and ideas. There is a bit of a Metroidvania angle to the game too, as you’ll unlock new skills that will allow you to access previously inaccessible areas. Plus, there are a few puzzles thrown into the mix which are hardly taxing, basic pushing blocks kind of thing. Also, some sections will have you switching from playing as Jack and controlling Butch the dog to get into hard to reach places.

The two characters are diametrically opposed in how they play. Jack is the all-action, jumping and attacking type character. The one who smacks enemies in the face with his sword (and later a bow and arrow). Whereas Butch is more stealthy, he sneaks past enemies and uses his doggy speed to reach places that Jack can not. This dual character play certainly adds a layer to the game and helps to keep things fresh by mixing up the gameplay.

Then there are the skills that you learn. Like an air dash that allows you to jump higher/longe or gaining a bow, which you can use to shoot arrows into the walls and make platforms. The skills are awarded to you every time you beat an end of level boss. As previously mentioned, the skills will grant you access to previously inaccessible areas. You can go back and replay through any of the previously completed levels to explore any areas you may have missed, if you so wish.

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I did find a few niggles as I played through. The controls are simple and yet just a little bit annoying. I think the best way to describe this is with the wall climbing. Yes you can wall climb but you have to hold down a button to do so whereas, I feel that should’ve been automatic when you jump at a wall. It just feels like unnecessary busy work and when the action heats up, it proves to bit a bit on the fiddly side. The fiddly controls only become more apparent when you unlock new skills too, as the button mapping begins to make less and less sense. Button mapping that can’t be changed either.

I did mention how the game takes place over eighty levels and in eight locations, which sounds like a lot… but it really isn’t. See, most levels are bite-size and can be finished in seconds, seriously. And an entire location can be gotten through in just a few minutes or so. According to the times on my game, the most I’ve spent on any one location was a little over thirty-seven minutes and the shortest was just over four minutes. So while the eighty levels and eight locations sounds like a lot of game, realistically you can see the end credits in about three to four hours or so, depending on how sharp your platforming skills are.

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The short game length doesn’t help the fact that 6 Souls can be a bit easy. I mean, I wouldn’t call, it an ‘easy game’ per se, it’s more a fact that it seems more difficult because is easy to die, if that makes sense. Outside of the numerous deaths, the challenge here is relatively mid to slightly tricky. If you are a fairly competent platform player, you’ll find little here to test your skills and probably make your way through the game without breaking a sweat. Even the boss fights are a breeze and more often than not, just require you to bash the attack button once they have finished their attack. In fact, thinking back, only one boss had me having to try more than twice.

If 6 Souls was really trying to capture that old school platforming feel, it really falls short when it comes to the difficulty. Now, there are two difficulty settings but the harder setting is locked until you finish it on easy. For me, this is a huge negative as I’m the kind of person who wants to play a game on hard from the off. Even more so, the basic enemies in the game that you will come across, you don’t even need to fight them for the most part. You can just jump over pretty much every single enemy in the game and keep going. I only really tackled enemies if they were in the way of a particularly tricky jump. There’s no point in taking out the enemies either, you don’t gain experience points to build your skills, you don’t get coins to spend in shops on better equipment, etc. There is zero rewards or reason to risk your life, so just jump over them.

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Your biggest enemy in the game won’t be spiders, slimes, bats or even any of the bosses. Where you will meet your death in the game will be the spikes. Oh yeah, this is one of those types of platformers. The many spikey deaths kind of put me in mind of titles like Super Meat Boy, perhaps a shade less difficult, if I’m being honest. You do have a three-hit health bar and that really only comes into play when facing enemies or bosses, cos when it comes to the spikes, it is one hit deaths. Pretty much every jump you’ll face in the game will involve spikes. Spike pits, spiked walls, spikey ceilings, etc. The spikes are everywhere and you’ll need to use pixel perfect and split-second skills to make your way through the levels in the game.

This is where the shortness of the levels actually works out well, as death will just send you back to the start of the level you are on, so you don’t really lose much in the way of progress. There is a binocular mode too, this allows you to scout out the level and see what troubles are up ahead. Quite honestly, as there is no time limit, as long as you do take your time, you can make steady progress. Just going back to those fiddly controls, as most of the platforming in 6 Souls does require some tight jumping, wall climbing and (multiple) air dashing, this is where the true pain of the game lies. You’ll often be having to press so many buttons just to make one jump that you’ll feel like you are trying to input a fatality move from Mortal Kombat over playing a platforming game.

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If this review is coming across a bit negative, don’t get me wrong. I actually really enjoyed my time with 6 Souls. I just feel that it could’ve been so much better with a few tweaks. I’d have loved to have seen some kind of experience/levelling system, a reason for taking on enemies instead of just jumping over them. What is here is good, it’s just rather frustrating at times and the controls really could’ve done with a bit of refinement. This brings me to the game’s price, it is only £8 and to be honest, that’s a price which won’t make you bankrupt anytime soon.

The platforming action is good (save a few niggles with the controls), the exploring of the castle was fun and the story was, in all honesty, pretty damn great. The puzzle-solving is basic but it works. 6 Souls is far from being a bad game, but it does fall short of being a really good one. While it did take me back to the ‘good old days’ of gaming, that Master System/NES age of platformers, 6 Souls really could’ve done with a bit more depth and difficulty. I may go back and play through on the harder difficulty setting sometime in the future, just so I can say that I did it really and because I feel the game needs a harder playthrough too.

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6 Souls is well worth a play. It may be short-ish, it may lack any real difficulty in terms of emeries and boss fights and it may be a bit on the shallow side. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. The pixel-art aesthetic is wonderful and it has some great throwbacks to classic platforming (like the little teetering animation when you stand too close to a platform edge). I loved how the story evolved from a simple man and his dog looking for treasure one, into the (avoiding spoilers) crazy and brilliant story it did become. The cutscenes that unfold the story are sublime. 6 Souls is basic, it is simple but it is also pretty damn addictive, charming and fun to play too. If you do enjoy slightly frustrating, insta-death platformers like Super Meat Boy, then you might just think that £8 is a very decent price point for this.

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