Having two screens on a portable device lends a whole bunch of extra incentive for developers to play around with their concepts, yet most games seem to stick with the ‘top screen is the action, bottom screen for map/stats’ idea for Nintendo’s 3DS. The same can’t be said for Fractured Soul by Endgame Studios, a platformer that’s a little rough around the edges but survives on its high level of challenge and a unique play style.
Simply put, you’ll be controlling not one but two characters with the ability to switch between the two at any time across the top and bottom screens of the 3DS. It’s not a gimmick either, you’ll have to split your time between both screens if you’re going to avoid traps and progress through each level, since certain platforms will only appear on one of the two screens among other little tricks. That’s Fractured Soul’s key selling point and for the most part it works rather well.
What impressed me the most was a consistent level of new elements as time passed. New enemies will increase the difficulty level, more traps will litter the field and, more importantly, the introduction of added environmental challenges such as floating underwater or inverted gravity will screw with your mind. There’s also a shmup level or two that breaks things up a bit, though perhaps a little added focus here would have made it feel more like an added adventure and less a quick add-on.
Let’s be honest, Fractured Soul is designed as a hardcore experience, an old school hardcore experience. You’re going to get frustrated at times trying to time it just right before switching between both screens, there’s no handholding or skipping past levels if you can’t complete them. Having said that, there’s mini waypoints of sorts if you do get stuck, so you won’t have to complete the entire level over again if you kick the bucket.
There’s been talk by the studio to update the game with an easy mode. I can see why that would be a valuable addition to the game, but perhaps in this case it would detract from the experience. It’s supposed to be hard, and just as Dark Souls presented on console there’s a clear market for that. Each level has a rating that’s determined based on overall time completed and whether you find all the hidden secrets, which really will challenge you even in the early levels.
What’s here is a little hit and miss. It all works well and looks solid enough, but as a modern video game there’s a lot that could have been added to really make it worthwhile. Leaderboards will keep you pumping out faster times to compete against other players, but why not a versus mode? Taking the game online instead of keeping it to a time clock would have added a ton more, as would a co-op challenge that has two players working together to control each half of the screen. Maybe that’s my own little pipe dream, but hey, why not?
If there’s one clear point, it’s that you can’t really complain about what’s here yet there’s that constant feeling that it could have been much more. Yes there’s a lack of a story or cutscenes but that isn’t necessary if the game play is compelling enough, which thankfully it is. What you need to do consider is the fact that this is a 3DS game, not an iOS or Android release. If it were the other way around, Fractured Soul would be one of the best games out there, but on a major console there’s a certain level of added expectation when you send your money over the wire, a lot higher than just a 99c arcade game.
For the price you’re paying here, it’s a solid challenge that will keep you entertained for a good while. But I came away from Fractured Soul feeling like it’s just a starting point towards a larger experience, like a working prototype where all the important pieces are in place but the final spit and polish waits in the wings. I for one hope that Endgame get a chance to expand on what it has here, it’s certainly deserving of more air time in the future.
[review pros="Impressive split screen concept, solid challenge, a little old school hardcore charm" cons="Could have been a bigger package for the price, lack of 3D is a shame, you'll need a little patience" score=81]