There was a lot of prep for us to do prior to attending the inaugural W.A.S.D. games event earlier this month, with one of the key items to check out all of the playable games on offer and shortlist what we wanted to get our hands on. And when we came across the trailer for pixel art platformer Souldiers from Retro Forge, our collective jaws dropped and it flew straight into our Top 5 list of games to play at the event. Thankfully, the kind folks at Retro Forge and Plan of Attack PR organised us a preview copy, allowing us to delve deeper and give you the lowdown on Souldiers prior to its release!
|We enjoyed…||+ The stunning pixel art visuals |
+ Nostalgic soundtrack
+ Crisp controls & tough, tactical combat
|We’d like it more if…||+ The skill progression was a little faster |
+ Item select/use was less clunky amidst combat
+ It was out already…! 😅
|Available On||PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC|
The game opens with a group of crusading soldiers becoming trapped by an earthquake. Still pondering their escape, the brigade are approached by a Valkyrie of legend who offers them a portal to another world, Terragaya, that exists between the realms of the living and the dead. Despite some hesitation, the troop, led by the courageous General Brigard, head through the portal and straight into an adventure filled with deadly monsters and the mysteries of the gods. The story is something of a slow burn and one that the preview keeps mostly under wraps, but it’s clear that the Valkyrie, and another, more sinister force, play key parts in the destiny of your nameless character and his countrymen.
Right from the get-go, what caught my attention about Souldiers is the quality of the visuals, which are second to none. The characters and backgrounds are brought to life in incredibly detailed pixel art, the likes of which you usually only see in artist portfolios. There’s a 90s arcade-scroller vibe to the look but with a level of polish that speaks to the talent of the Retro Forge team; to achieve this visual quality on such a scale is impressive indeed.
The character and enemy designs are cohesive while remaining individual, and some of the idiosyncrasies of the fantasy races unveiled really stand out. The buzzing Hafin City is particularly impressive, with humans, dwarves, fishfolk, elves and bird-people all roaming the streets – each race has a unique look but has been styled with a considered approach that draws everything together beautifully. The backgrounds are drop-dead gorgeous too and sport layer upon layer of detail that brings a genuine depth to the environments. From the arid splendour of the Sibuna Desert to the mysterious boughs of the Forest of Fyr, each area offers a unique palette and lighting that brings an individual look and feel. Souldiers offers you the opportunity to explore a world overflowing with life and charm the likes of which I haven’t seen in years.
Swooning about the visuals makes me realise just how stacked the Souldiers deck is, because I haven’t even begun to talk about the wonderful soundtrack yet! The impressive soundscape is made up of traditional instrumental pieces that echo the visual style of each area and add greater depth to the atmosphere. The looping panpipe melodies bring mystery to the Spider Lair, and the sombre piano that underpins an airy flute in the Forest of Fyr perfectly embodies its dormant mysticism. More than once the music in Souldiers gave me flashbacks to Hiroki Kikuta’s masterful soundtrack to Secret of Mana, one of my favourite games of all time, and I can’t think of any higher praise.
Souldiers isn’t all ‘fur coat and no underwear’ though; it has the gameplay to back up the stellar graphics and sound. Boasting old school metroidvania puzzle-platforming with the added bite of tactical soulslike combat, Souldiers brings a lot to the table once you have the controller in your hand. You battle your way across Terragaya using a mix of attacks, blocks and dodges, and there’s an armoury of elemental relics and unique secondary weapons that allow you to amend your tactics too. There’s also the usual myriad of potions to use and while it was nice to have these available, they were a little tricky to select and use in the midst of battle without copping out and doing so in the menu screen. I’d have liked multiple items to be tied to different button combinations to allow you quickly access different items mid-battle without taking your eyes off your often deadly opponents.
I have to admit that some of the battling (even against more routine creatures) was tougher than I had expected. You can easily find yourself dead if you take your enemies lightly, and there’s genuine challenge in the few mini- and boss battles you encounter in the preview. I’m not a big soulslike player, so I’ll admit that I got frustrated by being repeatedly killed by some of my missteps, but Souldiers isn’t so punishing that I didn’t want to try again. There’s an irksome toughness to the gameplay that makes you want to keep playing just to get better, which I guess echoes the appeal of the Soulsborne series without ever becoming as blood-boilingly frustrating.
To further alter the challenge, you’re offered three difficulty levels and three different character types too; the combat-oriented Scout, the spell-slinging Caster, and a ranged-focused Archer – all of which offer unique challenges in combat. You’ll earn Experience Points as you fight your way across Terragaya, and levelling up increases your statistics and offers you Masteries to add helpful skills to your arsenal – all individual to the character class you choose. I really liked the unlockable skills but felt like the progression was a little on the slow side; it would be nice if the skill tree had a few more branches and players were allowed to climb a little faster, but honestly, it’s a minor complaint that’s undoubtedly born of my own impatience.
I was able to play the preview for about six hours before I was faced with the ol’ ‘Thank you for playing’ message, and I was honestly heartbroken to see it end. The save screen suggested that my six hours play equated to about twenty percent of the full game, which scales up to a total play time of around 30 hours. While there could be changes coming in the final product, 30 hours would feel like the right length for Souldiers – there promises to be plenty to sink your teeth into without overstaying welcome, as difficult titles are wont to do.
There’s a tonne to be excited about leading up to the Souldiers release date of
19th May 2022 2nd June 2022; with the polished graphics, tremendous soundtrack and excellent combat topping the list. Exploring the stunning world of Terragaya with all its characterful cohorts, bloodthirsty bosses and metroidvania mysteries was an absolute joy. While this might be a case of the right game falling to the right previewer, I was utterly blown away by the quality of Souldiers and what it looks to offer upon its release. I don’t remember the last game that I looked forward to so eagerly, and the next few weeks will be spent with baited breath as I await the full version hitting the shelves!
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with an early build of the game in order to conduct this preview. Experiences from the full game on release may vary.