Fractured Soul is the kind of game concept that you wouldn’t be surprised to see come out of a niche Japanese developer. Maybe someone like a Treasure or a Cave. The kind of studios that don’t necessarily get to work with the highest budget, but pour a considerable amount of love into their games regardless, and it shows.
Fractured Soul is a platformer by Endgame Studios. It has one major identifiable feature, and it runs with it throughout the entire game, using it in a multitude of smart ways and two entirely different genres.
Here’s the premise: you’re stranded on an unknown space station and you need to get out. That’s it. There’s no fancy intro or animated opening. The main menu lets you pick a stage, and you dive right in. An obscure line or two on the brief loading screen between each stage serves as flavour text, but that’s all the story you get.
Aside from moving left and right, you can do three things in Fractured Soul. You can shoot with the A button. You can jump with the B button. Finally, pressing the L or R buttons lets you hop between two alternate dimensions. The two dimensions are represented on the Nintendo 3DS’ upper and lower screens. They’re identical for the most part, but obstacles and enemies and platforms are arranged slightly differently in both. Hitting R once will warp you to the top screen. Hitting it again will warp you to the bottom screen. You can switch between the two as often as you like, and you’ll actually be required to do this very frequently.
At first, the dimension-hopping platforming Fractured Souls asks you to do, as it teaches you its ways, is fairly simple. For example; there’s a big gap in front of you. There’s a platform hovering over it on the top screen, but not on the bottom screen. You hit R, warp to the top screen, jump onto the platform, and cross over to the other side of the gap. As you play more, the dimension-hopping gets more frequent. Maybe instead of a large gap, there’s a very large gap, and multiple platforms to help you get across, one in front of the other, except in different dimensions.
A couple more stages in, the pace starts to pick up even more. You’re frequently hopping between the top and bottom screens, desperately trying to keep your eyes on both. In the midst of this, you see a series of laser walls appear and start to move toward you on both screens, making you time your dimension-hopping to dodge those as well, while you try to avoid missing a platform.
Then, just when you think you’ve seen everything, the gloves come off, and Fractured Soul gets really devious.
A few stages into the game, the two dimensions start to develop different properties. For instance, the bottom screen might be a regular environment, but the top screen might be aquatic. This affects your jumping. On the bottom screen, your jump is a quick hop, but on the top screen, which is filled with water, you do a higher, more floaty jump that descends slower. Is there a laser wall that’s too high to jump over? Hop to the top screen, and the more floaty jump you have there will let you get over it.
Soon after you get comfortable with this new mechanic, the stages begin to get crazy again. Some stages will have a giant, insta-kill laser wall chasing you from start to finish, making it so you can’t pause for a breather, and requiring that you frequently hop between both dimensions along the way, killing enemies and avoiding obstacles all throughout. Fractured Soul has five zones, with dimensional properties spanning normal, underwater, hot, windy, and inverse gravity. Each one has a different effect on you.
Fractured Souls’ platforming stages give you a ranking (out of five stars), based on how long you take to complete them, and how many secret items you find along the way. This gives you incentive to replay stages and try to finish them with better times than the ones on record. Online leaderboards let you compare your times with those of other players, too.
In addition to its platforming stages, Fractured Soul also has stages that play like shoot-em-ups. You find yourself surrounded by enemies firing bullets at you from all around, and need to hop between the two dimensions to dodge enemy fire and take them out. Then, after a few waves of enemies, a giant boss shows up, and you need to use your dimension-hopping ability to avoid all the nasty things he throws at you as well, whittling his health down little by little.
Finally, you also unlock bonus stages along the way, with even harder challenges. I haven’t had a chance to play many of these yet—the main game is hard enough to keep me busy—but even just the first of the bonus stages was rather frantic.
Fractured Soul will be available for the Nintendo eShop tomorrow for $12. Interestingly, it was originally meant to be released as a retail game, published by Ignition Entertainment. It and three other titles all turned into eShop games when Ignition opted out of their publishing duties.
Food for thought:
Fractured Soul has no stereoscopic 3D, despite being a 3DS game. I would imagine this is because it would be pretty disorienting for your eyes to keep switching between a 3D and non-3D image every few seconds while hopping dimensions.