Thursday, August 10

Review: Phantom Trigger [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

In Phantom Trigger you play as Outsider, a sword-wielding, scarf-wearing warrior fighting through some very strange environments that look like they’re alien but perhaps they’re something unexpected. As you progress through the 4+ Worlds in the game you’ll periodically shift into the real world where you’ll see the story in progress of Stan, a man with a terminal disease who is having strange and sometimes nightmarish visions connected to elements of his childhood. One of the hooks in the game early on is to try to understand what’s happening and how this all interconnects. The choices you make in some key areas will influence the outcome of the game as there are 4 potential endings, so you never know if a choice you’re making may come back to bite you or not. Using this as a foundation the often-intense hack and slash gameplay is given a bit of a purpose and the effort to encourage replay is appreciated.

The central focus here is certainly on intense action, but you’ll need to be both wise and a bit crafty to be successful, especially as the challenge ramps up. When faced with a combination of enemies in a given space you’ll need to quickly size up a strategy and then execute it, often carefully. You won’t simply be able to storm in and slash everything in sight, not by a long shot. As you gain experience you’ll learn new combos and you’ll need to figure out how and when to use them. You’ll need to rush in and then pull back often. You’ll need to prioritize specific enemies that are capable of hitting you from long range. Finally, and sometimes most vitally, when everything falls apart you’ll need to develop a sort of combo and dash strategy that works and hope to wear down the mob before you die. Over the course of the game, especially if you’re daring and go after the Hard difficulty, you will have to restart quite a bit, and in some places often. Aggravation and keeping yourself going on the edge of death were consistent themes along the way in the game, but since I like a challenge I never let it get me down… at least not for long.

Probably the biggest standout element of the game’s action challenge is the boss fights. Each one will require some level of observation and experimentation, and in most cases I had to fight and lose a few battles just to figure out how to do damage to the them. All I’ll say is that you’ll need to be very observant of even seemingly small details when you get into these fights and you may want to reflect on anything they say if you’re stumped. There are clues and prompts you’ll see in their worlds teaching you about the its nature, ultimately its boss, and sometimes the means to defeat them but it can all be pretty subtle. Very little in the game that you run across doesn’t somehow relate to teaching you a new strategy or tactic and that includes some elements, and the opportunities they present, in the environment.

Beyond the raw action there’s very much a need to explore in Phantom Trigger if you want to get the most out of it and the narrative. There are items you’ll be able to give to certain characters to affect the story’s outcome strewn about as well as obelisks that will enhance your powers (which will give you quicker access to more combos), and they’ll require some extra work and looking around to find them all. In the classic gaming tradition the path to them will often be off to the side somewhere when you see the checkpoint ahead. Depending on how much of a completionist you are and how determined you are to get the most out of the story will dictate whether or not the added time and trouble are worthwhile. One note is that since the game doesn’t offer a map you’ll need to be quite thorough to find everything as even though I was trying to do so my first time through I missed a few things along the way. Be willing to backtrack and explore if you want to find everything, there are a surprising number of nooks and crannies in the level layouts.

The mention of no map also leads a bit into some of the challenges in the game. Without a map if you’re looking to find everything it is honestly pretty easy to get lost and then be challenged getting back on track in places. On a general level areas you’ve cleared will remain strewn only with corpses but the fact is in some spaces new enemies will spawn again. This can lend to confusion over whether you’ve been back through that area already. In addition some checkpoints will try to be helpful by offering directions but those are tied to progressing through the level normally, which will require you to follow a longer path at times, so when you revisit these guideposts they’re not always pointing the right way. The game does attempt to be helpful in some places, as it will include an icon and a direction to get to the level’s boss or main objective, but it wasn’t always available when I sometimes needed it. This can be overcome but you could lose some time to it over confusion. While the controls are generally responsive I do wish in some specific cases I could halt their execution or change things up. You’ll need to learn to carefully use some of your moves, especially when around certain enemies, since you’ll be vulnerable when you finish them out in some scenarios and until you figure this out you’ll likely lose quite a bit of health to this. I also ran into a few quirks with some specific enemies but only in one odd case did it require me to restart from my last checkpoint so overall I had very few technical issues with the game. The last issue I’ve encountered, moreso in Hard mode with the added enemies, is some slowdown at times, though I’ve found it can be managed.

When it comes to extended play there are opportunities for it but whether people choose to take them may be another matter. I assure you that if you choose to take on Hard difficulty (assuming you initially beat the game on Normal) you will be challenged. While I was able to get through the first three worlds, riding on my experience from before, once I got to the fourth world I really had to work to make progress, which is a challenge in the labyrinthian layout that you’ll find there. Once you’ve beaten the game the Arena mode will also become unlocked and the few times I’ve tried it have been pretty crazy. It is essentially an endurance mode that will put you in a large room with one of the game’s puzzles to work out. As you knock down pillars enemies will be released that you’ll need to deal with. Once you’re able to solve the puzzle (being careful not to hit any wrong pillars accidentally while you’re dispatching your enemies) you’ll then move on to battle that world’s boss once again. Defeat the boss and move on to the next world’s set-up only this time it seems the puzzle has only gotten more complex. It’s a stiff challenge, but I’ll need to play it quite a bit more to fully understand it. I will note that the game does offer drop-in co-op play but since you’ll be sharing a health bar whether that’s a help or a hinderance may remain to be seen. Still, a nice value add if you want to try to tackle the game with a friend and you can both be careful as you make your way through.

I found Phantom Trigger to be a challenging and distinct experience, mixing up some elements I appreciate in multiple titles with the action and nature of the boss battles, and giving me something to chew on for a while. While I normally don’t go right back through to attack a game I just finished on a harder difficulty setting I did that here and the game hasn’t disappointed. As I’d said I felt pretty good about myself being capable of facing everything the game could throw at me, but then hit World 4 and now I’m carefully trying to survive and progress… it’s a tough one. The Arena mode seems to have potential but for the most part it also doesn’t strike me as something everyone will want to replay once the main game has concluded. Since one of the things I’d wished for was for such a mode to exist to extend my play of Mr. Shifty I do greatly appreciate the added effort and opportunity to get some more out of the game now that I’ve mostly mastered the mechanics. While not everything in Phantom Trigger is perfect I’d say people looking for a meaty action challenge won’t be disappointed given the difficulty it brings with both its varied enemies and creative bosses. The fact that it tells an interesting story along the way is just icing on the cake.

Score: 8

  • Challenging action with powerful combos
  • Distinctive boss fights
  • A story that sucked me in more than I expected

  • Exploration can lead to getting lost
  • The challenge may be too high for some
  • Occasional issues with glitches and slowdown

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