After a short delay, Souldiers is finally with us. This painterly metroidvania throws some interesting mechanics into the mix to make it more than just another by-the-numbers adventure. As you’ll come to learn from this Souldiers review, developer Retro Forge has attempted to do something new with the formula. And for the most part, it works.
The game begins with the story of a general leading his army into battle in an attempt to save their kingdom. The plan is changed last minute, and the army gets trapped. They are visited by a Valkyrie, who informs them that they are no longer in the land of living. They must follow her if they wish to not simply fade to dust. The general leads the way into the Valkyrie’s portal, and so follows his army.
At this point, you may think the player would be cast as the courageous general. But no. That’s not the case. Instead, you take on the role of a lowly no-name cadet. There are three playable classes – solider, archer and caster – each of which plays very differently in combat.
Once you’ve chosen your character the game begins in earnest. You awake alone, with no indication of where to go or what to do. After gaining the confidence to move, the game puts you through a quick tutorial teaching you how the game will playout, and how to fight.
The combat in Souldiers will likely garner a lot of attention. It is challenging and has frequently been labelled ‘soulslike’. In fact, it’s easy to assume that’s where the game’s name came from. However, just because the game is demanding, that doesn’t mean it feels like a ‘souls’ game. Souldiers is a game which can be beaten by simply thrashing about, however you’ll fail a lot less if you learn to block and dash. Learning enemy patterns helps, which essentially makes it just like any other metroidvania. Despite the multiple character options, the combat system is in fact far less complicated than that of Demoniaca: Everlasting Night.
With those multiple characters however, does come a series of options as to how you power-up. You’ll automatically level-up as you gain experience, naturally. This is accompanied by mastering new abilities with relics and a wealth of items that can alter the way you play significantly. Will you equip items that augment your strengths? Or would you rather attempt to patch over your weaknesses? Souldiers elegantly doles out these options to the point where it encourages you to try different combinations. You might be surprised by the equipment set you end up choosing.
The exploration aspect of the game has also been very well defined. You’ll rarely find yourself without two or more routes to follow, and the game positively encourages you to backtrack to any you may have missed. The generous layout of checkpoints and save stations means that you’ll only have a short amount of platforming and combat to engage in should you fail, so you’re only ever a couple of minutes from uncovering something new. And often what you’ll find works back into the aforementioned character upgrading system. With so much new stuff coming at the layer regularly, it’s hard to know when to stop playing.
Thankfully, Souldiers is a long enough game that your play time will feel rewarded. The visual style of the game, landing close to Metal Slug, is of a very high standard throughout. The character design and animation adds to the compelling nature of the gameplay. Retro Forge may not quite have nailed the ‘soulslike’ combat system, but as you’ll no doubt have learned in this Souldiers review, everything else the game does compliments the captivating metroidvania game it aims to be.