A unique style helps power this River City Ransom-esque beat-’em-up.
Young Souls makes a great first impression with stylish, exact animations, and a distinctive beat-’em-up feel. It seems like the next step in publisher The Arcade Crew’s early evolution. The outfit kicked things off last year with Blazing Chrome, which was a delightful riff on old-school Contra. Young Souls isn’t quite their next project (rad-looking Spider-Man-like Metroidvania Kunai is out in February), but it’s very much evocative of their ethos and vibe.
The game stars a pair of young souls, teens Jenn and Tristan, who are raised by a kindly scientist in a sleepy town that is suddenly torn asunder by goblins as a portal to another world in the scientist’s lab leads to his kidnapping and the duo’s desire to kick some goblin butt and explore dungeons.
At PAX South, I played an early rough version that showed immense promise. The beat-’em-up gameplay features simple combos and a flexible dodge, block, and parry system that lets you, with enough skill, dart around the screen reflecting enemy attacks and laying down the hurt. The in medias res opening starts you off on a dark and stormy night with goblins attacking and an unbeatable boss ending the level. The action then kicks back to the past where Jenn and Tristan find out the professor is missing and investigate.
If you want, you could just plow right into the action, finding the portal to the goblin world and engaging in the dungeons that pit you against goblins and other baddies. Young Souls, however, bites at the feeling of a specific type of beat-’em-up, so streets and shops exist to explore in a way akin to River City Ransom (or more modern riffs on that formula in River City Girls and the sadly delisted Scott Pilgrim). The human world street features a cheerier aesthetic and lets you do things like work out to improve your character’s stats. While still early, I got to play a simple bike-riding mini-game. Apparently more like it will pepper the game. On the flipside is the goblin world street, where weapons and gear reside. These items are often restricted by your level, as the pair of heroes gain experience and progress through combat.
While I was able to wander both streets, I wasn’t able to get a complete feel for how everything interplays, but my mind paints a picture of potential. The clear flow of Young Souls involves exploring the dungeons, leveling up and earning gold, and then visiting the dueling streets to further the narrative and use your rewards to make your heroes stronger. Throw in some couch co-op and that’s a recipe for vintage brawler fun.
The one element firmly in place is the visuals, which pop off the screen, especially when used cinematically in cutscenes. I was struck by the liberal use of the f-word throughout the story. Not that I have any problem with cursing; just that it felt out of place in a world that had a more playful and strong Goonies-by-way-of-French-comic-books vibe. At the end of the day, a teen character muttering the f-word wasn’t harshing the buzz of this game’s promise.
I went into PAX South not thinking that much about Young Souls. I checked it out mostly because The Arcade Crew is involved with other games I really enjoy, but after my time with the demo, I’ll keep tabs on this one. It could be the next stage of The Arcade Crew’s modern retro style if everything pans out. The wait might be a while, though. Young Souls is eyeing a 2020 launch, but might fall into “it’s done when it’s done” territory. If it breaks right, it’ll be worth the wait.