One of the most compelling things about Nintendo’s line of DS handheld systems is the interesting ways developers have made use of the dual screens. Fractured Soul uses them in a very unique way, by casting them as different dimensions that your character can switch between at will. The concept is interesting, but it wasn’t enough to keep my interest in the game, which in spite of its premise is very one dimensional.
The game begins with you on a space station infested with aliens. Fractured Soul is a platformer at heart – you’ll climb ladders, avoid laser walls and use your gun to take out enemies. The twist is that the two dimensions are different, and you’ll need to navigate those differences, and sometimes use them to your advantage, to succeed. While crossing a gap you may find that the next platform is in the other dimension, so you’ll have to jump and then quickly shift in order to land safely. With no way to block, you’ll also need to swap dimensions to avoid enemy attacks.
The story in Fractured Soul is just window dressing; the initial premise in the manual and a few onscreen words as a level loads are as close as it comes to any sort of plot development. In actuality the game is a collection of courses that you play in sequence, completing one to unlock the next. You are ranked from one to five stars for each course depending on your performance, and the stars you earn can unlock bonus levels.
In order to obtain a five star rank you will have to complete the course under the par time, taking no damage and collecting all secret gems in that run. The platforming in Fractured Soul can be very difficult, and the checkpoint system that exists in the early levels vanishes later, meaning that any fall or death takes you all the way back to the beginning of the level. Getting a five star rank requires a lot of repetition, but sometimes just completing a level requires multiple trips, as you get a little farther each time until you eventually have the whole thing memorized.
As you progress, the physics of the different dimensions change, adding a new aspect to the gameplay as the differences between them go beyond layout. For example, in the water dimension you jump higher and fall slower, but also run slower. In levels where you are chased by a laser wall and have to keep moving forward constantly, you need to manage the dimensional physics while still minding the platforms and enemies.
The biggest problem with Fractured Soul is that the amount of repetition required, even without playing for rank, makes the game get old fast. When you finally reach the end of an especially tough level, only to have one mistimed jump send you back to the beginning, it really kills the urge to keep going. It doesn’t help that the gameplay outside of the dimensional shifting is bland. Enemies lack variety, and you can only shoot straight left or right, making combat a chore, and frustrating when they approach from odd angles.
The graphics in Fractured Soul really stand out from current 3DS games, and not in a good way. Everything is jagged and low res, to the point that movements like climbing along a rope just look weird. All around it looks like what it is, a game originally designed for last generation’s hardware. Due in part to that reality, it also lacks any 3D, although to be fair that probably would have been a hindrance when quickly looking from screen to screen. The audio matches the graphics in blandness; the sound of your character jumping (which you’ll hear a lot) sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom, and the background music is pretty uninspiring.
The idea of Fractured Soul really intrigued me; a sort of two-screen take on games like Ikaruga and Outland. The gameplay reminds me of Bit.Trip Runner, but it lacks the hook and charm that kept me playing that game even as I was failing levels multiple times. With no story to drive you forward, the game just becomes one long repeated cycle – your reward for successfully memorizing one level is a new one to memorize. With generic platforming and a generally unpolished feel, the novelty wears off quickly, and Fractured Soul is best left out in space.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.