A lot of titles come out on the 3DS eShop and manage to fly under the radar. They’re not always well-promoted, and unless you know someone who recommends one to you, you’ll miss a lot of great games. Fractured Soul for the 3DS is one of these titles: easy to miss, but one that you’d be sorry that you did.
Fractured Soul is a side-scrolling action-platformer in the vein of Mega Man. Games like that are pretty common; what makes Fractured Soul unique is the creative use of both the 3DS’ screens. In the game, your character exists in two different dimensions, one displayed on each screen. You are only present in one dimension at a time, while the other displays only a shadow to indicate your position. The two dimensions are nearly identical, but there are differences between them that will allow you to advance through the level.
For instance, you might have a ladder, a wall, or a platform on one screen that doesn’t exist on the other. You flip back and forth between the two dimensions by pressing the shoulder buttons. While you have a gun, often it’s simpler (and faster) to just change dimensions to completely avoid an enemy, rather than fight. There’s no way to angle your aim up or down, only straight in front of you (which is frustrating when an enemy is at an angle). Overall, the shooting isn’t as smooth as the rest of the game. Combat just isn’t fun; it’s one of the weakest elements of Fractured Soul. Luckily, you’ll spend significantly more time on the puzzles than you will in a firefight.
The two dimensions are a simple concept that is well executed. Just when you start to get used to it, the game changes things up on you. Through the different stages, you’ll find one of the dimensions submerged in water, allowing you to jump higher while moving more slowly, or a frozen dimension, meaning you’ll slide around with the blowing wind. There are even levels that switch up the gravity on you between the two dimensions. While the first few levels are rather simple, requiring you to only flip a few times to get around closed doors or blocked paths, the difficulty quickly ramps up to be completely unforgiving.
Timing jumps to moving platforms while swapping dimensions at the same time, all while dealing with different sets of physics for each, is challenging to say the least. It can be mind-bending and infuriating all at the same time, but when you do finally pull it off the sense of accomplishment is well-deserved. Luckily, there is no limit to the number of lives you have, and the game has a generous checkpoint system that lets you start over from just before where you died last. The only tracking of lives is done at the beginning of the level, when the game lists an Entity number. This Entity number lets you know how many times you’ve died; get ready for it to climb rapidly as the difficulty ramps up.
Each time you finish a level, your time is displayed and can be posted to online leader boards, which lends the game well to speed runs. There’s also a ‘par’ time to beat, based on the development staff’s fastest times, and they’re nearly impossible to match. You’ll find yourself going back through levels you’ve already replayed, trying to shave a second or two off your time. There are also glowing crystals, referred to as ‘secrets’, to collect while playing. These are usually placed in hard-to-reach locations that require a significant amount of time and thought to reach. The game reminds you how many of these you missed after each level. There’s no real story to speak of in Fractured Soul, so speed runs and secrets are really what will keep you going in the game.
In addition to the standard side-scrolling levels, there are also space-shooting (i.e. bullet hell) levels. In these levels, you control a ship, dodging bullets coming from a myriad of enemies that appear on the screen. The alternate dimensions concept is here as well, allowing you to flip between them to avoid the hail of bullets. Unlike the main game, during the space-shooter levels you have a different health bar for each dimension. Be careful how long you stay on one screen, as if you don’t kill any enemies in one of the dimensions for a while, your health there will start to drain. This effect forces you to keep flipping back and forth, and keeps you from spending too much time in one or the other. These levels are a fun way to mix up the gameplay, but there aren’t very many of them.
Graphically, Fractured Soul does little to impress. The environments look like they come from a generic sci-fi tileset. Textures are low-res, and models are bland and uninteresting. The environments feel recycled through most of the game. While the visuals get the job done, it seems like they were a low priority when making Fractured Soul. The same goes for the sound: while it’s serviceable, there’s little to make it stand out.
In addition, there’s no option in Fractured Soul to play in 3D, despite it being on the 3DS. While the game doesn’t necessarily need this feature to be playable, it would have been a nice inclusion in the game. Also, with the great puzzle design already in the game, having a dimension that required you to think in 3D could have been a clever addition.
While not without its flaws, Fractured Soul is a clever action/platformer that will keep your brain working on overtime throughout the whole experience. The game has a very ‘classic’ feel to it that isn’t present in many modern games. Fractured Soul may not be the most polished game on the Nintendo eShop, but underneath the layer of tarnish is a game that is worth playing. Don’t miss it.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Great Action/Platforming gameplay that stays fresh throughout
+ Unique gameplay elements set Fractured Soul apart from the rest
+ Challenging, engaging puzzles
– Bland, cookie-cutter graphics do nothing for the visuals in the game
– No 3D support
7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.