Of course, whenever you get an invitation to play a title with “Soul” in its name, you run the risk of expecting another surfer on the wave of From Software games. I made the same mistake when I went to the Soulstice event the week before last.
I was expecting dying by the minute in Finster Fantasy XXVIII, but got something I’m more interested in right now: a fast-paced slasher in the *text muted* May Cry vein, only in a much more classic scenario. And something else is Soulstice: not nearly as hard as Dante if you want to play him well, or even a common Souls.
That means: I got into this hack and slay straight away, with its jumps with lots of verticals and a catchy mix of combos and intuitive counter-manoeuvres. You always land it if you press the B button at the right moment, which is displayed above the heads of attacking enemies. Depending on the situation, what happens to the opponents differs. For example, your ghostly companion (your deceased sister Lute) throws projectiles back at the sender, freezes enemies briefly, interrupts their action or parries the damage entirely.
So you can focus halfway on your combos if you pay close attention to the B overlay. At the same time, the individual defensive actions, each of which can still be improved on the skill tree, are different enough that you can’t just forget about the opponents you countered. At some point, for example, the big axeman will thaw out again and pull his horizontal blow through, then you shouldn’t be standing where you were just now.
Getting behind a creature with a dodge move is always worth it. Then, depending on what you’re up to, you’ll either use your fast standard sword for longer combos, or some sort of warhammer to throw the opposition into the air for further processing. Everything is already playing quite nicely and quickly, without you having to think too much about it. The hits feel powerful and I usually had enough overview to defend myself well in the effect thunderstorm. In any case, as much overview as the camera allowed, because, like in the DMC, it is fairly firmly locked and does not always show all opponents at the same time.
At first glance, Soulstice isn’t as technical and sophisticated as a *text muted* May Cry. I already knew that from the fact that I reached a diamond ranking several times in the preview version and I’m not sure if it goes much further up. But does it have to? Do you have to be able to achieve almost professional elegance and efficiency in every action game, or is it enough to let your inner bastard off the leash and indulge in a power fantasy at ten or twelve?
There are hints of more puzzle-like elements here and there in combat and exploration, but I’m not quite sure what to make of them yet. Ghost Sister Lute can create a red and blue energy field around Briar and use these banish and summon fields to reveal various ghostly crystals that block the way or just serve as currency for the skill tree. In combat, this means that some enemies can only be damaged within a certain square’s area of influence. The idea sounds nice, but aside from the pattern recognition, it only makes the difference between having to hold L or R while unleashing your combo in gameplay. Let’s see how this develops in the further course.
For the semi-full price of just under 50 euros, Soulstice is obviously robust enough, at least as far as the basics are concerned. Especially since I liked it technically and creatively. Seeing the imposing, doomed city in the background as you slash your way through the area and slowly get to the core of the demonic misery is quite impressive. And the music already has a few goosebump moments in the main menu. I also like the plot twist that sword-wielding Briar has a dark side and is constantly battling an inner monster that at times literally threatens to erupt from her.
Developer Reply Games definitely has an interesting title up its sleeve to end the summer in an aesthetic and fast-paced way when it launches on September 20th on PC, Xbox Series and PS5.