So, I came across Souldiers in a random thread and saw there was a demo. The first things that stuck out is as a metroidvania and 2D it is perfect for the Steam Deck; the 2nd thing was the art style. Problematic Women with more skin on show than armour designs aside… It does look very reminiscent of Sega Genesis games, with some modern touches. The game is exactly this in a lot of regards and I absolutely love it for it.
Souldiers leads players to uncover the mysteries surrounding their supposed deaths and those of their fellow soldiers. Whether they choose to play the archer, the scout or the caster, their mission is to find their way through the depths of the mystery and locate the Guardian in Terragaya to move on to the next world.
The story so far is interesting enough, it is nothing to write home about, but it is enough to keep me interested and see how this plays out. There seems to be some kind of omnipotent god or being pulling the strings, and I am very curious to see how this all comes together.
As mentioned, this is a metroidvania game and while it is reminiscent of the genesis era it has some very modern touches, it does have 3 difficulty levels which can be changed in game. It also has 4 classes that all play quite different. Initially it seems quite basic with a block, normal attack, and a heavy attack and a dodge. You also have items you can use; you also have equipment in the form of a shield, amulets, and a weapon. However, as the game goes on this keeps on growing. You also have a bar only used in combat which is to do with guard/poise, you can block X number of blocks before it breaks and then you are briefly unable to block and dodge and so on. The dodge is a big deal as it has a decent chunk of, I-frames, which you will want to use.
There are RPG style levels and skill points for a skill tree, there’s a parry you unlock, and an MP bar, you also unlock different states like fire and so on in addition to abilities. What this means is later in the game there are a lot of options for combat on the table, making it feels very much like an action game.
The problem is a lot of this is not apparent for the first 3 or so hours of the game. The reason being, for some very odd reason the devs decided the best way to introduce you to the game is… A SPIDER CAVE. Yes, you spend your 1st 3+ hours in a dark (occasionally pitch dark) cave, this really gives a bad initial impression. However, while the cave visually is quite boring, the actual design is quite good in my opinion. There are some well designed puzzles, some solid boss fights and the spacing between checkpoints for the most part are well thought out. There are some difficulty moments with spike pits you sometimes can not see and so on. However, what I do like about this design is while it feels very difficult at first, much like dark souls’ repetition is the key, you learn the patterns and your mistakes and suddenly that troublesome part becomes relatively trivial.
Enemy variety is quite good in the first area and stays very fresh through other areas. The first cave has 5 or so enemy types but the placement of them and the combat interactions with them make them feel unrepetitive. Especially as you get more and more options as the game goes on. The overall gameplay loop feels very good and is definitely a strong metroidvania with a well thought out combat system that differs itself from other modern metroidvanias I have played.
However not everything is sunshine and roses, while the game does have checkpoints and a save/fast travel system however, there is something you should be aware of. You need to manually save at these checkpoints, even though it says it is saving checkpoint, if you quit the game all progress will be lost. It does not make this clear at all, and many others, myself included have lost time due to this. You need to stop at these points, interact with them and select save.
Balancing wise as a Soldier the game does not feel unbalanced yet, however, I have seen quite a few people reporting difficulty with other classes in a lot of areas, so there may well be some general balancing needing to be done. This is something easy to fix and I hope devs take the feedback, so all classes feel relatively the same difficulty wise.
Visually while the game does look like a genesis era game in m any ways, it does not take the usual lazy approach a lot of indy games do (games like shovel knight absolutely excluded). Which is to try and mimic that era 1:1 without the proper parallax scrolling and so on, because the reality is they chose the “retro style” to save time and money and/or lack the skill to do anything more.
Souldiers however, takes a more Eastward approach, that being it takes that eras style and builds on it. The animations are better, lanterns and so on are their own independent light sources and can even interact with you physically, there is a lot of things going on within the beautiful pixel art that just can not be done on the era it is inspired by. I absolutely adore this approach to the visuals and am absolutely in love with the design and direction, female designs aside.
This is the elephant in the room with Souldiers. While everything else is well designed and thought out for the most part, the sound package is by far the weakest. The sound effects on attacks, items and so on are very lacklustre and this is the one part that doesn’t feel like a genesis era game with modern touches, everything lacks impact feels a bit poorly mixed and is just underwhelming.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack does not fair much better. I will leave a link to a sample here, but to me it feels like those budget genesis games. It serves its purpose but unlike many big names of that era it lacks any memorability and is entirely forgettable in every sense.
There is not too much to write about here as it Is a 2d game. The frame timings are relatively stable with mild fluctuations, nothing I think you’d ever feel personally. The frame rate is unlocked. There are some things to note, however, loading times being the main one of them, which are entirely dependent not on the IO but the CPU speed.
On the PC front, GPU usage on my 8700K @ 4.7GHz, 16GB DDR4 RAM and RTX 3080 OC rig is 17-45% running at 144fps, the odd thing here is the jumps, which seems to be related to GPU clocks, as they go from 700MHz to 1080MHz, the clock speed fluctuations seem quite unusual, I don’t have another GPU to test behaviour on. Ultimately however this is going to be irrelevant to you and is just a technical intrigue. Loading time wise, on my PC on a SATA SSD the speed is 7 seconds in the current area I am in. Which is a noticeable improvement on the Steam Deck from a percentile perspective. The first area took around 11-12 seconds from memory. Saving takes about 1 second.
On the Steam Deck with V-Sync enabled frame timings fluctuate mildly in gameplay and will not be felt, however when loading new areas, or saving there will be stutters, this is rarely a problem as it does not occur during travel much at all. Performance is a locked solid 60fps leaving things on Auto, Total system power ranged from 9w to up to14 watts depending on the area, it does seem a tad high for the type of game and could be optimized more than it is but nothing major and should result in around 4 or so hours battery life with haptics/rumble disabled at 60fps.
There is one big elephant in the room however, and that is loading. On the Nintendo Switch it takes around a minute to load a save on the Deck in the current area is 9-10 seconds, regardless of internal 512GB NVME drive or SD card, which is slightly longer than my PC. The first area however took 16 seconds, what I did notice however, when I disabled CPU boost using a power tools plugin (https://github.com/NGnius/PowerTools), the loading time increased to 26-27 Seconds. So, CPU speed and general efficiency seems to be very important with this game. Saving takes about 2 seconds. Oddly enough however, fast travelling back to the first area only takes 10 seconds. However if yodisable CPU boost using power tools, you can significantly reduce the power usage, although this will increase loading time. I am yet to experience an FPS drop doing this, but in the 2nd area it did gain me an extra hour of battery life.
In comparison to the Nintendo Switch version, which is what the inevitable comparison would be, I can summarise as follows. Battery life wise, you will get around 5.5-6.5ish hours on the deck depending on the area at 30fps, and around 4-5 or so hours at 60fps using default power management. The switch version runs at 30FPS and will get you around the same amount of time as the deck at 30. The switch version has significantly more input lag as one would expect and is standard on the switch. Loading times on switch are about a minute on switch and saving takes about 20 seconds (yes 20 seconds). This makes the switch version completely unadvisable currently and the deck experience is lightyears ahead.
Souldiers is a very competent metroidvania with a few minor miss steps. The art style is great (again bar the women), the visuals are generally a fantastic throwback to the genesis era, the combat is great, the enemy designs and bosses are solid, and I enjoy the puzzles. If you are looking for another metroidvania or are on the fence due to a few bad ones, I can highly recommend Souldiers. It is highly competent and a very enjoyable game that has flied completely under the radar and had 0 marketing. You should absolutely check it out.
If I was to score it right now, I would give it around an 8.5.