In the world of unbridled beat’em up, two licenses are law: Devil May Cry, whose fifth opus arrived in 2019, and Bayonetta, which will return to the front of the stage next month for a third round. Besides, the rare other titles of the genre only share crumbs. Yet this time, the Italians from Reply Games Studio intend to shake up this status quo with their new game called Soulstice .
From the announcement trailer, broadcast during E3 2021, the title had attracted the attention of fans of the genre. And so here it is today available on PS5, Xbox Series and PC. But as we approach a particularly opulent end of the year on the video game front, does Soulstice really have the shoulders to upset an established hierarchy, or even simply impose itself in the midst of dozens of other productions?
Contrary to what its name might suggest, Soulstice is not a souls-like. From the beginning, we are put in the bath, to knock out without really knowing how dozens of monsters. An introduction which is reminiscent of that of the first Bayonetta. Then the real adventure finally begins. We then embody Briar, a warrior corrupted by an evil energy, sent to Earth to close a gigantic fault puncturing the sky. To help us, we are accompanied by his sister Lute whose role, as a spirit linked to his soul, is to prevent him from being overwhelmed by his corruption while assisting him during the clashes.
Our discovery of the universe of Soulstice is done rather pleasantly. Nothing revolutionary in fact, with combos based on two complementary weapons, one fast and weak, the second slower and more powerful, each being assigned to a specific key. This is enough to start taking control of our warrior and slaying our opponents.
Everything works well, the game is very dynamic and our first battles are exhilarating. The basics of an excellent beat’em up are there. By chaining victories, we discover a scoring system that pushes us to always vary our attacks and to perfectly dodge and counter enemy attacks . As for her, lute will perform various magic attacks and can notably counter certain opponents.
However, now a first cog in a mechanism that seemed well oiled is seizing up. If the beginnings are quite simple to understand, very quickly, we find ourselves overwhelmed by specific terms that are particularly poorly explained. Just the perfect counter is not easy to understand as the tutorial, accessible in the game options, is incomplete. Several times during the adventure, we will be challenged to carry out certain actions, without the said actions having been introduced, or even, worse still, without the titles of these challenges not even being understandable.
A lack of clarity which is also found in the exploration. The Soulstice developers have chosen to offer us to evolve in fixed plans. This sounds like a good idea when you want to hide various bonuses in the levels as is the case here. Unfortunately, this has the effect of penalizing our apprehension of distances and we find ourselves several times not touching an enemy, missing a bonus or falling from a platform because of this choice.
A few pitfalls, not necessarily very bad and which could have been of the order of quibbles by putting them in front of a very present gaming pleasure. However, over the chapters, these little worries began to resonate in us like the harbinger of a descent into hell, as much for our heroines as for us.
but a corrupted soul
Soulstice is not content to simply copy the big names of the genre. On the contrary, and it is to his credit, many game mechanics will be added as and when to gradually complicate the gameplay. Two skill trees are even included in order to best personalize our fighters, even if many skills, especially on the Lute side, will have remained very obscure throughout the game.
Most of the additions revolve around the evocation (blue) and banishment (red) fields that we raise with the pull of a trigger. Thus, ghostly enemies, for example, normally intangible, find themselves vulnerable in the activation area of the evocation field. But be careful, using this skill will raise an entropy gauge which, once filled, will make it unusable for many seconds.
Little by little, several other additions will be made around this idea, and, paradoxically, the more Soulstice has become more complex, the more it has lost in quality . A glaring failure. Spent a big third of the adventure, it is the permanent lack of legibility of the clashes. There are light effects everywhere. Between Lute’s magic attacks, enemy spells, our own combos and a very often strawberry camera, we often wonder if we are typing in the void or not, the feeling of the impact of the blows being close to nothing.
But even when you see it clearly, the fights are not more glorious. While until then, the most devious opponents were confined to a mini-boss role, here they are now present more and more often, sometimes in clusters of three or four. Battles more and more painful to lead as each demon or almost suffers from the syndrome of bag to PV.
Fortunately, we can very easily access a kind of fury mode, with a very successful artistic direction, really pleasant to use, in order to somewhat alleviate the ordeal that certain brawls represent. Only the main bosses manage to raise the level of Soulstice . These are very successful, whether by their design, their staging or their game mechanics.
Even the story fails to convince. However, there were beautiful things to do in this universe, but in the end, nothing really makes you want to get involved. There is indeed the evolution of the relationship between Briar and Lute which is pleasant to follow, as is the character of Donovan, which is particularly interesting, but they are not enough to pass the towel in the face of a completely failed staging of a story neither very thrilling nor very well told.