Save the Village
What do you get when you task a pixelated knight with saving a pixelated village occupied by, well, evil pixelated ghouls? For one, an impressive 8-bit throwback to the NES era’s golden age of gaming, complete with all the associated sights and sounds. Soul Chase is a retro-style game by Harambert, a one-man team that developed the game over a three month period completely solo.
The main objective of the game isn’t so much to save the village but to chase your escaped soul every night when you fall asleep. Your character starts in a medieval village, reminiscent of Zelda II, and is approached by a scared farmer who promptly informs you that ghouls have invaded his town and, in true Princess Leia fashion, explains, “You’re our only hope.” Yes, he quotes A New Hope...more than once, displaying the game’s tongue-in-cheek humor.
Star Wars references aside, don’t expect this to be Hamlet. The plot is paper thin, and that’s perfectly fine with me because it stays in line with games of the era. No princess needs rescuing here, but I’m thankful for the flimsy storyline. It places reliance on enjoyable gameplay rather than a convoluted mythos.
Now, Let’s Seek That Witch!
Before you depart from the town to shutter the influx of nasties, you learn from the town’s elder that there is a mysterious witch who can help with their troubles. You might be anxious to start your journey. But, before leaving town, take advantage of a few opportunities to better your chances of success. You’ll notice multiple homes scattered around that you can enter, the first being Feelimon’s Coin Insurance. It allows the player to bank their coin for a fee, virtually guaranteeing your currency safe from unnecessary loss. Just don’t get too comfortable yet. Your coins will be in constant jeopardy.
You can also visit the blacksmith for an armor upgrade, which will allow the knight to take more hits before kicking the bucket. Above all, I recommend visiting the sensei to purchase power upgrades. Everything is costly, but you’ll have enough gold from the outset to buy double-jump. Do it! And if you want to play Barbie dress up, there’s a store called Fashion Souls that sells the Ninja Knight, White Knight, and Black Knight outfits for a considerable fee.
Now it’s time to seek the witch. However, there is no actual seeking involved. After you speak with the town elder, a cut scene follows and you are transported immediately to her. She gives you the power to combat the ghouls at the expense of your own soul. The caveat is that you cannot fall asleep or your soul will escape your body and you must chase it down. Hence, the name Soul Chase.
Show That Soul Who’s Boss
Even though you are not supposed to sleep, you end up passing out every night and get transported to a side-scrolling scenario where you have a limited time to chase down your soul. If it reaches the portal at the end of the level, the witch will possess it and you must start over.
I loved most aspects of the game. But I wish I had the option to return to the village and upgrade my attributes more frequently. Everything is broken up into three chapters with a boss fight at the end of each. There are approximately ten levels per chapter and, unfortunately, the only time it’s possible to upgrade is after a boss battle.
It also brings back the level of unforgiving difficulty reminiscent of those 8-bit games. Soul Chase isn’t very long, but if you’re expecting to breeze through to the end, you will be disappointed because the game is challenging. I’m talking Dark Souls and Cuphead level of difficulty.
Not only will you navigate a side-scrolling obstacle course, complete with widely varied level design and difficult enemies bouncing around, but you’re also on a timer. And there is no way of knowing how close your soul is to escaping through the portal. I loved this aspect because it added a level of desperation, having to execute gameplay perfection while rushing to the finish line. When you die, you lose your currency but have the opportunity to retrieve it at the location of death. Much like the soul retrieval mechanic in the Souls series.
But before you throw your device across the living room, take comfort in knowing that you will learn from your mistakes. You will remember that off-screen platform beneath you or that fourth enemy you previously forgot about. With persistence, you’ll eventually make it to the end of a level or defeat that seemingly impossible boss. When you do, there is a profound feeling of accomplishment…because even though Soul Chase is tough, it’s fair and, more importantly, an absolute blast to play.
Break the Curse
I had a great time with Soul Chase and, for the record, I did beat the game. It wasn’t easy, but I found it hard to put down and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It’s free on the Google Play Store, so why not check it out? Lastly, there is an easy mode in the options menu, but you didn’t hear it from me.
Is it Hardcore?
Old-school retro fun with a Dark Souls influence. Chase down your soul every night in an attempt to break the witch’s curse while saving a village from a swarm of invading ghouls. Sign me up.