Fractured Soul review
I didn't know what to expect from Fractured Soul. I knew it was available from the eShop and I knew it was a sci-fi theme — that's about all. What I got was a game that provided a challenging platforming experience and kept me playing until I killed the battery on my 3DS.
At first glance, Fractured Soul looks like your standard platforming experience with a sci-fi theme. There's plenty of running, jumping and shooting as you make your way through the levels. The catch here is that you're playing on both the top and bottom screen of the 3DS. The gameplay mechanic that makes this a different platformer is switching between both screens to overcome obstacles and defeat bosses. Let's say you're running on the top screen and encounter a wall you can't pass, or a jump you can't make. You look at the bottom screen (which shows a ghost version of where your character is) and notice that there's not a wall there or a block there that you can jump to. With the touch of a button, you swap to the bottom screen and are able to continue. The game follows this pattern, albeit with increasing difficulty, and you'll constantly be swapping between both screens.
I admit it was quite a jarring experience at first. I'm not used having to constantly watch both screens at once, and I had to train myself to do so. Over time, where I would stop moving and slowly browse what to do next, I eventually got to the point where I would trust my instincts and make the swap without thinking. You'll become accustom to moving and watching both screens at the same time. None of this would be possible without responsive controls, and that's why Fractured Soul succeeds — because the controls are really good. Some of these jumps would be impossible with loose controls.
While most of the game is platforming, you'll experience your fair share of shooting, including a few levels that belong in the space shooter genre. In these shmup levels, you'll still be switching between screens to avoid enemies firing at you, but you need to keep killing enemies to keep your life from depleting. There's also a good amount of shooting in the platforming levels, where you'll be encountering enemies that pose a challenge to your progress. Sometimes you can shoot your way through them on one screen, but there's also the option to swap to the other screen. And when there are enemies on both? Well, pick your poison. The shooting does slow down the pace of the game, when it feels like you should be avoiding rather than fighting, but it doesn't ruin the experience. It just changes things up a bit and adds another layer of strategy. It's not exactly Mega Man, but, then again, it never really tries to be. It's its own beast.
With 30 levels across five zones, you can't expect the game to not be challenging. In fact, it ramps up in difficulty quite fast. I'm pretty sure that it was around the third of fourth level where I realized I just can't run through this like I have been. Then the deaths started piling up, so I had to start thinking more. Some of the levels can cause you to pull out your hair, as it approaches Dark Souls-esque difficulty — at least for me it did. But when you finally pass the level, there's no greater feeling of satisfaction. I'm not talking about switching screens mid-jump; I'm talking about each screen having a different set of rules. One screen can be underwater with a different effect on jumping, and the other has inverse gravity. It gets that weird!
While the game is presented with a polygonal look, it looks like a typical sci-fi game. It has a tilted view to the levels, but ultimately, it's not exactly a unique look. It's both a good and bad thing for me, as the setting works perfectly and the backdrops can be quite nice, but it's nothing I haven't seen before. In typical sci-fi fashion, there's an abundance of synthesizers and techno, because that's what you get with sci-fi. It goes perfectly with the game, though.
If you're worried about replay value, Fractured Soul offers a good amount of it. There's secret items to get on each level, as well as a par time that earns more stars for the level. I can't begin to tell you the amount of one-star levels I had. So if you're one of those players that strive for the best score, it'll take you quite a while. There's also leaderboards to compare your times to players from around the world — in case the game wasn't competitive enough without comparing your pathetic time to other people.
Fractured Soul was an unexpected experience, and is a gem of a game for the 3DS. While the difficulty might turn off some people, if you stick with it, it's a satisfying experience. And while some people might view the switching screen ability as a platforming gimmick, it is anything but and offers a large amount of depth and variety in gameplay. It might struggle with being a shooter at some points, when it feels like you should be playing as an avoidance-based platformer, but it can also be seen as a blessing when the game nails the balance. It'll be jarring to your senses, but Fractured Soul is a game that deserves your attention.
You can follow Movies and Culture Editor Lance Liebl on Twitter @Lance_GZ