I’ll be the first to admit- I’m kinda terrible at platformers. I love them, having grown up with Mario, Metroid, Mega Man and Mappy-Land. Ori and the Blind Forest is one of my all-time favorite games, period. And I will be forever optimistic that someday, my reaction times won’t suck! That being said, I do indeed suck. So, when I tried my hand at 6Souls, I was a bit more hopeful it fell more on the “puzzler” side of platformers. Which of course it didn’t – silly me!
It is a true callback to the games of yore. Channeling in some Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a bit of Supernatural (seriously, Butch is totally Dean from “Yellow Fever”) and a whole lot of falling, and you have a recipe for “holy moly what have I gotten myself into!”
Developed by BUG-Studio and published by Ratalaika Games S.L., 6Souls falls into that category of being deceitfully challenging. Timing is absolutely important if you want to survive. Sounds ominous? Just wait until you meet the villain.
A Little Bit of Hobbit in All of Us
We’ve all been there – off to explore a dark mysterious castle with the promises of treasure, alongside a puppy companion to question our sanity. Right? So, what is left to do but shout “I’m going on an adventure!” at the top of your lungs and fall off a crumbling bridge! Or a crumbling platform. Or crumbling floor. Well, you get the picture.
Jack, our wonderfully intrepid explorer, seems to believe he is ready to face a new day of treasure hunting in the old, abandoned castle belonging to the Clifford Family. For reasons unknown, everyone on the estate disappeared some time ago, never to be heard from again. But obviously, nothing bad can happen to our hero!
Butch, Jack’s canine companion, is definitely unsure about all of this seeking and adventuring – preferring to excavate tasty bones which he has no problem voice… er… woofing to his owner. Being ever the swaggering daredevil, Jack assures him with the classic “of course it’s safe,” famous last words while crossing a very unstable bridge! Butch again questions whether his man has any idea what they are getting into.
Like every “good, but silly” story involving an overconfident hero, the bridge collapses almost immediately, plunging our duo down into the depths of the castle. Thus the opening act of this Hobbit-like adventure unfolds. After realizing just how royally stuck they are, Jack and Butch must figure out how to get out of the rubble and where to climb from here.
Jump, Jump, Jump around
Platformers involve a lot of jumping, bouncing and attempts at not falling to certain death. It is, after all, a staple of the genre. Although not the most difficult game to date, 6Souls can be a challenge of precision and timing. Each chapter of the story becomes increasingly harder as the size of the chambers grow along with the challenges within. Platforms move, shake, disintegrate, and reappear with regularity. Thankfully, the controls are tight, movement is smooth and not over complicated.
Thankfully, before entering the castle and during new areas, the game offers a tutorial of sorts. Wooden signs with directions show us what buttons to mash in order to climb, slide, jump, and fight. The mechanics are straightforward, and once you have the timing down, it’s not too difficult to hop from one side of the walls to the other. At least at first.
Sherlock, I presume
As Jack and Butch transverse the first level inside the castle – the dungeon – they discover the castle isn’t quite as empty as they thought. Skeletons, oddly equipped with weapons, attempt to block any progress. They pose no threat to us, though. It’s those dang spikes, inspired by Hollow Knight’s Path of Pain, that had me twitching. Almost every surface is covered in them, and needless to say, I died A LOT.
Dropping down into a chasmic room, those instincts arise, because of course, it’s a boss fight. Baby blue Slim King presents a small trial but is ultimately defeated and our reward is secure. A shiny green gem floats into Jack’s hands as Butch woofs his scaredy cat warnings again.
It turns out, he was woofing for nothing. Here we meet Henry the Butler, a faithful servant of the Clifford family, and the final victim of a mysterious hooded being who sucks out his soul and puts it into the gem. Who is the cloaked villain and why is he murdering innocent butlers? There is a mystery afoot!
Beauties to behold
We do get some help along the way – each gem is a fallen member of the Clifford family, and they are oh so grateful to Jack and Butch when their souls are released. So much so, that they are very willing to help our heroes along the way by way of special abilities. The first three gems – Henry, Jimmy and Erica – give Jack increased leaping distances. When used in unison together, Jack covers a lot of ground, a useful ability as the length between platforms begins to grow.
Butch, our fearful yet willing pooch, can crawl through tight spaces and tunnels, reaching keys, coins, and other valuable items for Jack. And like every good doggo, he is rewarded with bacon collectibles. However, the bacon not always worth it: some risks are just too treacherous for Butch to take, and Jack’s newly bestowed powers of amazing leaps doesn’t transfer over to Butch. So pooches beware!
Jack is also equipped with a pair of binoculars, as every explorer should be. With them, he can scan the entire level, seeing potential traps and enemies. So if you like to plan ahead, the binoculars are a very helpful tool.
Dying to meet you
Dying in 6Souls is kinda like a bad trip. Like in Super Mario Galaxy, Jack and Butch have 3 health hearts – one hit depletes one heart, and they’re shared between master and pup – so you have limited room for error traversing the chasms of Clifford Manor. Unless you decided diving straight into the spikes is more your thing? Who am I to judge? Be warned, instant death does await.
Dying will reset Jack, or Butch’s progress back to an autosave point. Sometimes, this is a good thing and can be used to the player’s advantage, giving the character a second (or 50th) chance at figuring out how to proceed. You know, “if at first you don’t succed, try, try again.” Or is it “die, die again?” I’m beginning to feel like I’m playing Deathloop…
Sometimes you’ll be dropped in the middle of spider infested platforms where you will have to move at breakneck speed to get away from the creepy crawlies! Enemies range from the afore mentioned skeletons and spiders, to slimes, goblins, and haunted mirrors. Each chapter’s end has Jack facing off against some sort of monstrous boss, each with their own brand of pain – like the Monster Book (straight out of Harry Potter), a quick and hungry creature equipped with a devastating instant killing attack. Part of the fun is figuring out how to approach the boss battles most effectively in order to win.
A pure callback of nostalgic fun
Gameplay balances flawlessly between platforming to puzzling, as Jack uses the tools around him, like movable boxes, to reach places he can’t jump to. Being aware of Jack and Butch’s surroundings go a long way in alleviating some of the frustration from dying repeatedly. Use those binoculars at the start of every level and trust your instincts.
The eight chapters are short but include over 80 levels to explore. The overall runtime of the game is around an hour for an average player on Classic mode. It took longer for me, but I’m resigned to my atrocious lack of coordination. Once players beat the game on Classic, a second difficulty setting becomes available for the truly adventurous.
As announced last week, 6Souls is out now on all major platforms.