author: Sebastian Kasparek
Soulstice - Bad Game Which I Had More Fun With Than This Year’s Hits
Virtual entertainment has been moving toward genre homogenization for years. There are more and more titles, meanwhile, some genres have practically died out, leaving a void. Today I will briefly talk about a certain medium representing a neglected style of games.
I'm currently at the stage of being totally tired of narrative-driven games. In some time it will probably change, but at the moment I can't focus on anything challenging and prefer casual games. The weirder the better, preferably games for downright lunatics, who took their brains out and threw them in the trash. Soulstice partially fulfilled my desires, and I stumbled upon it completely by chance. At the same time, it reminded me how much I love the mediocre, discount games, craps that deserve a score of 5/10 at best. Games that don't pretend to be more ambitious than what they really are. Unceremoniously bad games that most players wouldn't even look twice at. What? I have bad taste? Great, even awesome!
Soulstice is an extremely honest game – it's the work of a lesser-known Italian studio that proudly describes it as an AA game for fans of classic action games. The apparent shortcomings resulting from budget constraints have been turned into advantages. This is not a title for everyone, but a production aimed at a clearly defined audience. Forget about open worlds, interesting narratives, good writing or complicated intrigues – this game doesn't pretend it's arthouse cinema. There are also no side quests, no half-baked crafting, nor complex RPG elements, all of which are crammed into every major game these days like the publisher's existence depended on it. Forget irksome ideas for artificially lengthening and dragging out gameplay, so prevalent in the mainstream branch. Okay, so what does this game actually offer?
Meet Briar, illegitimate daughter of Guts of Berserk
Soulstice offers a linear – and in the eyes of modern players perhaps even banal – gameplay in the style of classic God of War and Devil May Cry. You'll be watching red orbs used for character development fly out of crumbling furniture and barrels. The style and time in which you complete each stage will earn you a certain score. You can also expect edgy art style heavily inspired by Japanese dark fantasy. After all, there are a lot of direct influences here, ranging from Kentaro Miura's Berserk or Norihiro Yagi's Claymore – as Fabio Pagetti, the creative director from Reply Game Studios, admitted himself.
Besides, you can tell just by looking at the armors that characters wear here. And by the great swords they wield, such as the Dragon Slayer wielded by Guts. The main character, Briar, is a chimera, who's evocative of the demonic yoma in her fits of rage. The game, in its own peculiar and comic way, seems charming in its presentation of darkness. At the same time, it tells a simple story of sisters who were sent by their order on a suicidal mission to liberate a city possessed by ghosts.
I won't try to pull wool over your eyes saying that Soulstice is a tour de force, or just a great game. It's the opposite of that. This production is simply poor, and at best it rubs against the lower limits of mediocrity. The combat system is clearly modeled on the best representatives of the genre, but at the same time it does not live up to their heels. In the later stages of the game, it even annoys with the "color coded," moronic mechanics and requires problematic setting of the aura to the color of the opponent. It's a tragedy because many of these enemies are bloody damage sponges and you can pound them, slash them, blow them up, and don't see much of an effect – either that, or I'm just extremely stupid and do something wrong, who knows. Then, there are platforming elements that are annoying in the long run. The camera? Bah! It often simply doesn't work and sucks. And you know what? It was all, in the end, almost completely unimportant.
Weak, but at least honest
So what am I really getting at? I'm not going to defend this game.Soulstice bought me with an honest vision. It's not just another game that is really a collection of trite ideas taken from popular productions – and I really appreciate that. It's a representative of a genre that has largely been absorbed by more modern solutions. Its creators noticed a niche in the slasher segment and decided to contribute to it – diversifying the offer available on the market. In addition, it's heavily inspired by all sorts of cool things. And that's great, because waiting for the next Devil May Cry or Bayonetta has gotten a little boring. We don't know when Dante will return. Kratos is currently more interested in simulation of walking, and the badass witch conducted some debatable experiments with a tried formula. On top of that there's a heap of Souls immitations, even though no one but FromSoftware can do them well (OK, NiOh is a slightly different story).
Sure, part of being able to appreciate a game like this is the peculiar times we're in, which, well, don't abound in awesome games. There's truth in that, but Soulstice also weirdly nailed my tastes, and I think that's what ultimately turned out to be the key to having so much fun with it. This combat system, despite undeniable flaws, gave me a lot of joy. I liked the inspirations I was able to recognize, but I always had the impression that the game wasn't trying to imitate something. I liked the main characters and if another opportunity arises, I will gladly accompany them on the next adventure. I loved the animations of entering the berserker mode, even when I'd seen them a dozen times already. This is the stuff made especially for all lovers of "too mad to die" characters.
And I actually love this arcade-like nature of gameplay – it's pure action, 90% dynamic combat intertwined with underwhelming platformer elements and simple puzzles. Just what I wanted. I don't need diversions in terms of implied complexity that comes down to forced RPG elements and endless, pointless wandering around ever-larger worlds. All I need is a crazy, breakneck run, clearing arenas full of enemies and trying to get the highest score possible, having some fun with the available arsenal of weapons. That's all I got, and sure – it could have been done a lot better – but so what? I was able to look past the less polished elements that surely arose from the team's inexperience and a smaller budget.
Industry ratings and recognition? Screw that, man
All this makes Soulstice a curios case. It's a game that's in every way worse than the third Bayonetta or Ragnarok, and yet I remember it more fondly at the end of the day. These two smash hits disappointed me for some personal reasons, while here, I didn't have any exaggerated expectations. I'm having more fun with Valkyrie Elysium as well. Going even further, I'm pretty sure that the utterly mediocre Gungrave GORE will provide me with the adrenaline boost I want. Regardless of what the industry ratings say about all these games.
Perhaps this is just a reminder not to trust the Metacritic average with all your life. First, I'd argue that the 0-10 scale has gotten mostly obsolete, and second, it's been inflated anyway. All to the delight of the players and journalists, who reward fancily packed mediocrity and boredom. Ratings have largely devalued. For players, it's just another tool of online brawls. They can surely offer guidance for people who are just starting their adventure with gaming and don't know where to begin. However, if you have been playing for years, you certainly have developed your own taste, which could render ratings redundant. I guarantee that many mediocre games are able to provide much more thrills than many "must-play hits" and dozens of Ragnaroks. Besides, why argue about the scores, when it is the text of a review that fully represents the opinion of the author?