Tech reviews

Review: Soul’s Spectrum – Movies Games and Tech

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Soul’s Spectrum has one of those premises that you accept at first glance, because it makes sense as a video game. When you die, you spawn back as a skeleton. Of course you do. You can throw a bone as a boomerang. Of course you can. Then you think about it and it becomes more horrific. Being dissolved by acid just to open a door is horrible in every conceivable way. That’s to say nothing about the psychological effects of being repeatedly reduced down to a tiny, floating sprite.

Still, everyone in Soul’s Spectrum seems to handle it rather well. Maybe turning into a monstrous version of yourself is actually really fun. Who am I to judge? Glib comments aside though, I do really like Soul’s Spectrum‘s central gameplay mechanic. Death and life give you special, bone-throwing powers that allow you to progress. To move on, you have to die. It’s fertile ground for puzzles and Soul’s Spectrum sows a lot of seeds. I’m just not sure that all of them are growing.

Soul's Spectrum - the umbra form navigating the sewerSoul's Spectrum - the umbra form navigating the sewer

Death: The Secret To Eternal Life

Let’s dig deeper into that core mechanic. Our hero, Eleanor, has four states of ‘life’. Anima is a little spirit ball that can teleport. Umbra is a shadowy spook who can slip under metal bars. Skeleton who… is a skeleton, with the aforementioned boomerang, and Human. You move up the states by lighting candles and down them by dying horribly, which forms the spine of the puzzles. Soul’s Spectrum is like one of those Russian dolls, but a lot more gross. You have to balance the strengths and weaknesses to go through the states in the right order to get to the room exit. It’s a clever mechanic and makes for some fun puzzling.

It also pairs with the story well. The reason Eleanor and all the people you bump into are stuck in this world – forced to skeletonise and back again – is because she cooked up an elixir for eternal life. This drew in a suite of people who wanted to live forever for various reasons, and who are now stuck along with you. It’s an interesting plot and there’s some good conflict with the characters as they grapple with their monstrous selves. Grace got the worst of it, essentially becoming a zombie. It also paints Eleanor with an interesting brush, being both an emotional, relatable character and one of the main antagonists. The writing itself is quite awkward on a line-by-line basis, with strange sentences popping up a lot, but the general strokes are good.

Soul's Spectrum - The skeleton form in the Awakening HallSoul's Spectrum - The skeleton form in the Awakening Hall

The Elixir Of RPG Maker

So the puzzle concept and the broad strokes of the story are good. That’s already a gold star. Still, I do have gripes. Most are down to the choice of creation tool, though. Now, I’ve played a good handful of RPG Maker games and I like quite a few of them. They all tend to have the same issues, though. Controlling characters is awkward, for one, due to it being largely grid based. It’s rather annoying to try and turn and walk off to your death, essentially resetting your puzzle progress. The graphics also end up quite flat, with underground locations all looking rather similar.

As for issues that are unique to Soul’s Spectrum, I feel like it’s caught in a bit an odd middle-ground. On the one hand, it has an interesting puzzle mechanic. On the other, an interesting and emotional visual novel style experience. As a result, neither get a chance to breathe. The puzzles are quite straightforward, for example. They’re usually just a case of finding the state you need to exit then working backwards. When they do get harder, Soul’s Spectrum has a weird habit of throwing down a sign that basically tells you the solution. The story elements feel a little rushed too, meaning the final gut-punch didn’t quite land for me.

Soul's Spectrum - The Wanderer talks to Nora in the Anima formSoul's Spectrum - The Wanderer talks to Nora in the Anima form

Soul’s Spectrum: A Premise With Promise

It’s a pretty good issue to have though. Thund Games just need to grab either side of Soul’s Spectrum and pull with all their might. Okay, might not be as simple as that. Still, this is a mechanic – and a general story premise – that deserves a slower boil. Throw in some more complex, multi-part puzzles to slow things down a bit and let us chat with the folks a bit more. There was some quite good banter with Kristopher towards the middle of the game and a bit more casual philosophising would help me connect more emotionally with these characters.

I guess this all boils down to the eternally unhelpful criticism: it’s a bit too short. The nuts and bolts are good – the little twists at the end are nice and the characters go through arcs, with a satisfying pay off as everything pivots back to Eleanor. We just didn’t spend enough time getting to know them for it to hit hard enough, nor were the puzzles complex enough to really make me stop and think. In the end, what Soul’s Spectrum served me wasn’t half bad, I was just left hungry for seconds.

(Soul’s Spectrum Steam Page)


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