Fractured Soul on the 3DS uses both screens well, but suffered from development hell
Fractured Soul is out now on the 3DS eShop, but the game has been in development of some kind for a very long time. You can tell the move to the 3DS wasn’t the best case scenario; the game doesn’t actually use any 3D effects and the character models are blocky messes. While the play itself is clever and uncompromising, the lack of a clear theme or aesthetic direction hurts the game.
To put it very bluntly, it’s ugly. Visuals do matter, and the unattractive graphics of Fractured Soul, combined with the bare bones story and the lack of context for what’s going on hurt the game. It’s hard to stay interested, and the game’s hook only becomes apparent after you’ve been playing for a while. The game’s $12 price point on the eShop is also going to go a long way to keeping players away. It’s impressive that the game was released at all considering the problems it had in development, but what was released is a hobbled, sadly unimpressive experience. The main character design is uninspired, and the enemies look like stock graphics from the PlayStation era. The lack of imagination is disappointing in a game that is, in other ways, very creative.
That’s a shame, because the game’s main idea is brilliant. You control a robot who can shift between the 3DS’ top and bottom screens in order to navigate the action taking place on both. The early levels are simple: imagine two versions of a room where some of the platforms needed to climb to the next area exist on the top screen but not the bottom and you have to shift in mid-air to land on them, but they become more complicated when the screens may offer different effects. During one section the top screen is under water, so you can jump higher and fall slower there, while the bottom screen is standard. Knowing when to shift up and down, and sometimes you must do so very quickly, gives the puzzles their bite. While the puzzles start easy, they ramp up into something pleasantly maddening.
Once you get to the moving platform sections? Whoa boy. There are checkpoints on each level that seem fair, and you’re given an unlimited pool of lives from which to draw. This was a good decision, as I can’t imagine what it would be like to hit a “game over” screen after only three shots at a puzzle. Many sections of the game required a dozen or more attempts to solve before I found the answer or had sufficient practice to move ahead. The game is hard, but in the good way you find in a well-tuned Mega Man game. The unlimited lives are there to make sure you’re willing to give it one more try.
You’ll also encounter some 2D shoot-em-up sections that take advantage of the two-screen setup, and I can imagine a team with better art direction and improved funding taking these ideas and creating something that feels a little more cohesive. Or, better yet, I’d love to see a publisher give Endgame Studios the money and time needed to create another game with these ideas with a little more punch and updated graphics.
For now, this is a near miss. The play is interesting, but the price is a little high, the graphics are outdated, and it never seems to come together in a way that makes sense. Fractured Soul feels unfinished and raw in places, like a remnant from the early days of Nintendo DS development. Of course, that’s accurate, because it is a remnant from an earlier time in mobile games, and that’s a hard sell from a $12 game. I hope someone will take another pass at these concepts and release a title that looks like it belongs in this generation.