There are a lot of indie 2D Metroidvanias out there, but Souldiers nails the feel in a way that puts it up with the best.
Release Date: June 2, 2022
Suggested Audience Age: T for Teen
Time to Play: Several hours, with three different characters for lots of replayability
Availability: Switch, Playstation, Xbox, Steam
Recommended for fans of: Metroidvanias in general, Hollow Knight specifically, and gorgeous pixel art
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
I'm willing to give just about any indie Metroidvania a try, and I usually find something to love in all of them. From tiny games like Sector 781 or Trash Quest to the heavy hitters like Hollow Knight and Death's Gambit: Afterlife, it's a format that I just absolutely love. With that in mind, Souldiers was a game I knew I'd love from the first screenshot. I'm only about 20% of the way through the game so far, but I've found it to be one of my absolute favorite action platformers, even if it feels absurdly difficult and has a few design decisions that just don't click with me.
A Beautiful Afterlife
It seems like both Metroidvania games and Souls games are really, really into the idea of the afterlife. Just like Death's Gambit, Souldiers picks up just after your character has fallen to their death. In fact, it seems like the entire army that you belong with has passed into a new realm, and you set off to explore as a member of that crew. At the start of the game you choose between three classes of characters, each with its own combat mechanics. The standard soldier has a light and strong sword attack, while the archer shoots a limited number of arrows and then flings their bow to recoup them. Finally, there is a magic wielder who throws out projectile spells.
I started with the soldier and didn't try the others until I was a few hours in. Starting over with a different class felt really jarring, and I quickly switched back. I think each of these characters will be fun on their own, but I really wish this game gave you the option to swap around at checkpoints like Astalon: Tears of the Earth. As it stands, it sort of feels like I'm just completely missing out on two alternative game modes. I suppose that Infernax‘s alternate game modes worked the same way, but the fact that they are hidden made them feel like bonus options, rather than ones that the player is excluded from at the outset.
Exploration and Combat
There is a surprising amount of story throughout Souldiers, but like most games in this genre the gameplay stands out much stronger than anything else. The world you find yourself in is made up of distinct environments that you tend to work through piece by piece. Rather than working through a vast interconnected world, it feels a bit more like working through one level, then going on to the next. It's not as segmented as Metroid Fusion, but from what I've seen so far it's a bit more linear and segmented than the Souls moniker suggests.
Within each level, you'll do a lot of platforming and a lot of hacking and slashing. The combat feels pretty solid, with blocking, dodging, and parrying all getting unlocked pretty quickly, and a skill tree for more options as you go on. It is pretty punishing, and I found myself dying a lot. In fact, on the standard difficulty I was getting so hammered that I ended up bumping down to the easy mode, and I'm still needing to stay focused in order to stay alive.
The platforming also feels really good, and unlocking the double jump after the first major area makes it feel even better. In fact, I think I like thinking of this as a platforming-based game with combat more than a Souls-like game.
There are a few things here and there that are irking me with Souldiers. The biggest problem I was having was some weird performance issues, but it looks like a pre-release patch has cleaned a lot of that up. Loading times when I first started playing this were long. Like, way, way, way too long. Now that it's been patched they are still long, but they aren't long… you know what I mean?
There are also some issues with the game locking up briefly. There are still a few places where I've encountered repeated slow down, but it's much better than before. Those places where it does happen are extra annoying because rather than being random, it seems like the game always hangs at specific points, and with so much platforming those hangs almost always mean missing a jump and falling onto a pit of spikes. On the other hand, consistency does mean that after three or four times you learn how to work around those issues.
The other thing that I'm struggling a bit with is the story. Specifically the fact that you are playing a single soldier in this massive army that already seems to have spread around this afterlife. Almost everywhere that I've gone I've found living or dead comrades already there, which sort of minimizes the feeling of triumph as you progress. It's also really weird to see dead soldiers, since every time you die you just respawn at the most recent checkpoint. I kind of wish that the game stole The Mummy Demastered‘s hook of being a new soldier each time you died, in order to incorporate the idea of being a part of the army into the respawn mechanic.
Souldiers is really fun to play moment to moment and I'm having a lot of fun with it. However, it's also surprisingly difficult, even on the easier difficulty mode. Thanks to many, many, many deaths, it's looking like I'll probably take about 25 hours to make it through the game, and I wonder if I might tip into frustration before I get through there. Still, if you're a fan of 2D action platformer games, this one is an easy recommendation, and I feel like it'll end up next to Hollow Knight and Death's Gambit when all is said and done.