Soulcaster – XBLIG Review

A WDesm review for XBoxHornet

“Hardcore Tower Defense so old school it needs a Powerglove”

“Retro” is in. Just like twin stick shooters, sidescrollers, and tower defenses, some genres just explode under the influx of fresh blood that an Indie scene can produce. It’s not too hard to think of ‘retro’ themed games on XBLIG, and the ones that tend to become the cream of the crop are those that not only talk the talk, but walk the walk: Unforgiving and addictive gameplay is a staple of those early NES games, just as much as chiptunes and nondescript pixeljunk. A previous example of ‘doing it right’ was Holmade Games’ Pixel Whirled, a solid 8-bit take on Space Invaders oversaturated with nostalgia, and now, I’m happy to report that a different studio has continued the mantle of “Retro Done Right”. MagicalTimeBean has released Soulcaster, and, like the iceberg, you would be amazed how much content has been “hidden” underneath a thoroughly pixellated guise.

Everything about this game screams ‘1980s’, and it really strikes a chord if you happen to have grown up playing games in that era – unlike other “we swear we’re retro” games, this one actually goes the full monty: Included in Soulcaster are a slew of 8-bit monsters with limited palette swapping, cheesy chiptunes (and though they be cheesy, there is talent there nevertheless), and a password-save feature! Since the advent of cheap hard drives, I can’t think of a single modern game that has regressed so far back into gaming history, and yet I chuckled heartily when I was forced to scrounge up a scrap of paper to write down my personalized code. Even the ‘stages’ of the game are primarily a single screen, and it brought a little smirk to my face when the palette changed just enough to enable a riverside battlefield or a spooky graveyard with its self-imposed technological limitations.

The game is played through a young adventurer, functionally useless, as he grows into becoming the Soulcaster. Being of no use himself, he must instead summon the heroes of Yore to fight for him, and places them on the battlefield by temporarily allocating a Soul Orb to them; (this placing of troops is where the tower defense mechanic comes in). You start off with a lone archer, but will quickly gain the help of a stalwart knight and an alchemist, and earn up to five Soul Orbs (able to place five towers). Each of the three heroes is independently upgradeable from the stereotypically sketchy shopkeeper, and these upgrades are essential to keeping your heroes/towers sturdy. Other small boons can be purchased, such as extra health (for your adventurer, not for your heroes – poor placement of your heroes leave your adventurer in danger, and you need to keep him alive lest it be game over!) or KillScrolls (to kill everything on screen in a last-minute emergency).

The stages are at least partially open-concept, which means that it is up to the player to decide where to bunker down.

The game can be saved (by manually writing down that pesky password) after every stage, and the game even includes a Hardcore mode for the real Tower Defense enthusiast. I’m minimally miffed that the game doesn’t include some of the guilty pleasures of modern gaming such as online leaderboards (perhaps a simple time taken+gold remaining calculation?), merits/badges, or hidden unlockables (a recent pixelly sidescroller Great Dungeon in the Sky had a real kick-in-the-groin unlockable, and it’d be nice to see more of that ilk). Ultimately though, these are minor complaints, and I suppose that their inclusion would only lessen that old-school feel. As it stands, Soulcaster is completely playable, incredibly polished, nostalgically retro, and insidiously addictive. Don’t believe me? Just check out these other reviews, hand-picked by MagicalTimeBean to showcase their talent:

Game Score 10/10

Download a free trial here.

Watch a trailer here.


4 Responses

  1. Nice review. Enjoying the game too. I really like the graphics and overall setup/gameplay.

    Another hit appeared at indiegames-section 🙂

  2. This game is an amazing example of why Indie games are so important.
    This kind of genre tampering would be understandably avoided by larger game companies, but Magical Time Bean stormed right on in and nailed it.
    This is probably one of the best games I have played this year! (no kidding)
    The approx 1 hour playthrough time is long enough for a good stratergy for upgrading to be important, but short enough for you to really WANT to play through again and again to try different stratergies. (Do I get stronger more efficient Souls, or should I have more of them?)
    Freedom of play style is one of this games strong points and makes it a treat to boot up for the 354th time.
    There is even a secret password that really tickled my fancy… (I think the game gives you a hint to what that password is if you finish it under a certain amount of time)

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