A Little Ray of Sunshine
I can’t say that I’ve ever come across a game quite like SolSeraph before. At least, not since the halcyon days of the SNES. With most genre combinations having already been tried, and many of them having been done to death at this point, you could all but assume that the simple act of slapping two dissimilar video game genres together and calling it a day is old news. I certainly did. But I was wrong. Despite my disillusionment with many of the multi-genre games out there, it seems as though I’m still not immune to their novelty — at least not this time. But, as we all know, a premise alone isn’t enough to make a good game. It’s got to deliver on its promises; something which SoulSeraph does reasonably well.
As a concoction that’s one part platformer and one part tower defense, SolSeraph certainly sticks out. But it doesn’t stick out in a bad way. Rather than halfheartedly trying to slap two things together for the sake of novelty, SolSeraph shows that a little bit of genre mix-and-match every now and then can be a wonderful thing so long as it’s handled correctly. And, while I’m not sure if this is ACE Team’s only planned endeavor into something like this, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this kind of thing from them in the future.
New Gods on the Block
SolSeraph‘s story takes place in a world very much unlike our own, and one which is currently facing great turmoil. Created by the Earth Mother and Sky Father, humankind once flourished greatly — so greatly, in fact, that the Earth Mother and Sky Father felt that they were no longer needed and left. But this decision was one which would ultimately prove detrimental to humans. Sensing that the two heavenly hosts were no longer present, the Younger Gods moved in and began tormenting humankind to the point that they were practically no more. Just as their light was about to be snuffed out for good, however, a being known as Helios, the child of both man and god, appeared. Swearing to protect the remaining humans from harm so that they may once again thrive, Helios set out on a journey to fell the Younger Gods and bring order to the chaos running rampant.
The entirety of SolSeraph, while up-to-date graphically, feels very retro — and you don’t even have to look any further than the game’s story to begin seeing that. SolSeraph offers just enough of a story to both keep players interested and hold the world together, while never focusing on it too much. SolSeraph isn’t a lengthy game by any stretch of the imagination, and, while it does have an interesting enough premise, I don’t think that trying to build a huge backstory would benefit it. The small parts of story that this game offers may feel scattered and not overly necessary, but they do ultimately compliment the rest of the game. Sure, a drip feed approach may not be everyone’s choice of narrative intake, but I think that ACE Team made the right call in deciding to set the story up in the way that they did.
If You Build it, They will Come
Helios’ mission may be to save humankind from the Younger Gods, but it won’t be as easy as waltzing into each of their domains and slaying them. Each of the territories controlled by the Younger Gods is filled with the dark magic of chaos — a magic which prevents the human’s growth, and protects the Younger Gods’ territories from being entered. Fortunately, Helios can enlist the help of the very people that he has vowed to save in order to combat this. That’s where the tower defense section of this game comes in. And, while much of SolSeraph‘s tower defense segments should feel familiar, not everything remains the same.
Technically speaking, there isn’t a proper “end” to SolSeraph‘s tower defense segments. Rather than tasking the player with enduring a set number of enemy waves in order to claim victory, the game instead tasks them with setting up shrines by each of the enemy portals, after which the player is able to take on the Younger God of that area. Of course, it’s a little harder than it sounds. Rather than just letting players immediately set up camp by each enemy spawn point, SolSeraph instead ensures that players actually participate in this segment by requiring souls in order to build shrines. And, since you can’t sacrifice people, those souls come from, you guessed it, monsters!
Outside of its unorthodox shrine mechanic, SolSeraph‘s tower defense action shouldn’t feel very different from most other tower defense games, and even throws in some simple, yet effective, resource management mechanics. Rather than charging gold for towers, towers are instead able to be created so long as players have proper resources (ie wood) to build them, and manpower (ie villagers) to fill each tower’s vacant slots. This, of course, means that players must build the proper housing for villagers to stay in, as well as farmland in order to feed people in their fight for freedom. Typically, balancing out manpower, food, and towers isn’t a difficult task. With that being said, however, it does work well with keeping players in check. By forcing players to make sure that they can properly feed and house their workers, SolSeraph quickly does away with any notion of over-populating the map, thereby creating a need for strategic placement of towers. And, if that’s still too hard, you can always help your fellow humans out with one of a handful of your divine miracles (seriously, that lightning is a lifesaver).
Building sanctuaries near enemy spawn points may be enough to clear away the darkness, but it it will also be up to players to strike the final blow as well. Flipping the script entirely, attacks on enemy bases take place not via tower defense, but as platforming segments. And, as enjoyable as the game’s tower defense segments are, I can’t help but feel that this game truly shines (no pun intended) with its platforming. Despite an abundance of striking, 3D visuals, Helios’ on-foot journeys through enemy territories feel anything but contemporary, instead giving off a vibe that pleasantly seats itself halfway between Castlevania and Mega Man, with Helios being responsive enough to easily control, but sporting an odd jump arc that feels partially borrowed from a certain Simon Belmont, Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately for some), the same transition isn’t made when it comes to the game’s difficulty. SolSeraph isn’t objectively easy by any definition, with many parts of the game commanding at least partial competency over Helios’ dodging and blocking abilities, but those with platforming experience shouldn’t have much trouble with any of the game’s levels — or even the bosses.
SolSeraph also places plenty of emphasis on combat. Certain enemy territories, rather than challenging players with typical platforming levels, instead throw players into the midst of an enemy-filled gauntlet. Similar to their more traditional counterparts, these “combat levels” are a comfortable challenge, sitting somewhere in the middle of hard and easy. Unfortunately, SolSeraph‘s bosses aren’t what I had hoped that they would be. As much as I’d hate having to fight something that requires hours of practice and extensive memorization of enemy patterns and tells, I also don’t want something overly simplistic — the side which SolSeraph has apparently chosen for its bosses. Outside of a few of them being hard to hit due to the fact that they fly, the Younger Gods really live up to their name when it comes to combat experience, each possessing an array of attacks that usually doesn’t go beyond 2 or 3 different moves. At least you get powers from killing each of them. That’s pretty cool.
A Bit of Brains, a Bit of Brawn
If there’s any complaint that I have against SolSeraph, it’s that it’s too short. But that’s only because a game like this is enjoyable enough that I’d like it to be longer. Featuring not one, but two well-done, and completely different modes of gameplay and a seamless integration between the both of them, SolSeraph is both unique and fun. It might not take long to save the world as Helios, but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll at least appreciate what time you do have.
Final Score: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: SEGA ; Developer: ACE Team ; Players: 1 ; Released: July 10, 2019; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of SolSeraph given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.