Starting up our Young Souls review with a quip – some souls are dark, other souls can be demonic but when they are young; they tend to be very fun beat-em ups. There is a purity to “belt level” brawling; the simple act of progressing forward while throwing down with every thug and mid-boss is something every human can understand. What if RPG elements found their way into a beatem-up?
Action-RPG brawlers are not exactly new. River City Ransom is a long running franchise built upon the foundation of a beatem-up with character stat management and the incorporation of “quests”. The popularity of the admittedly subpar Scott Pilgrim game proved gamers still thirst for a lengthy beatem-up with stats to grind.
1P2P may not have the notoriety of Wayforward and their Double Dragon Neon or River City Girls, but Young Souls shows they understand what makes the genre enjoyable. It isn’t perfect, but there is a lot to like about this appealing French RPG-brawler. Where does Young Souls go wrong and what does it do right?
Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Platforms: Windows PC, Stadia, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: March 10, 2022
Price: $24.99 USD
Young Souls is about two adopted twins named Jenn and Tristan who were taken in by a goofy scientist in a boring secluded town. It is a very Twin Peaks-y style locale that is a very popular setting among the indie-scene; very nostalgic Americana. They spend most of their time skipping school and trying to find ways to not die of boredom.
Their dull lives took a drastic turn when they find out that there is a portal to a Goblin dimension in their basement and that their scientist ward had been kidnapped. The town’s underbelly is teeming with fantasy tech that is used by Goblins who use teleportation to get around in their world. It just so happens that Jenn and Tristan’s adoptive father got caught up in something big.
With nothing better to do, the protagonists would rather help save Goblin prisoners and rescue their caretaker. It is better than going to high school after all, and they get to carry some awesome weapons and beat up all kinds of magical monsters.
Young Souls sets players loose in a very open-ended structure. Early on, Jenn and Tristan are able to freely walk about town, talk to NPCs and explore dungeons without much handholding. Dungeons are linear but they do often have locked chests and doors that beg replays.
Often times the levels will have a hub area that has multiple routes to choose from and several others that are need a key. The only drawback is that each path is one-way, like every beatem-up ever and that stages don’t loop around naturally. This means that Tristan/Jenn are automatically teleported back to the hub area.
Getting around does lean on fast-traveling a lot and the current build for this Young Souls review on Switch does need it more due to the ridiculous load times. While traversing from the heroes’ house to the town, to the pawn shop and then back to the house, only to ride an elevator to get to the portal room; expect trips to last about 10-15 minutes.
The load times between areas are long and when entering the zone, there is always a snarling jutter to the frame rate. The action while playing is smooth, but god help anyone who does not exploit the fast-travel to get to exactly where they need to be.
This limitation also affects the equipment screen which takes several seconds to open up and seemingly takes longer the more gear is accumulated. Sometimes it doesn’t load properly either; resulting in either Jenn or Tristan’s screen (sometimes both) as a completely white box.
These technical issues are not something that happen frequently, but the terrible and long pause that makes the game feel like it froze is a drawback that is consistent at all times. This bug compounds on itself as more loot is acquired and the player finds themselves avoiding the equipment screen to avoid the nerve-wracking freeze.
The substance of Young Souls is battling magical foes and trying to survive intense gauntlets of traps and pit-falls. 1P2P sprinkled everything in the beatem-up playbook, from swinging pendulums, elevator battles and huge bosses with gigantic attacks.
The mechanics of combat are snappy and very responsive. The sound effects and the slow-mo used when landing a perfect parry adds to the visceral feel of fighting. Stamina is finite but regenerative, and managing it is tied to dodging. Players must be deliberate when avoiding threats and this makes battles feel more strategic, since they can’t endlessly abuse i-frames.
The kind of weapon that Jenn or Tristan carries greatly affects their combat style. Sometimes it isn’t the best option to go for the weapon with the bigger numbers like in most RPGs. Young Souls is still a beatem-up and fans know that success favors speed.
It may be worth making Jenn the slower heavy hitter who can shrug enemy attacks with super armor and making Tristan the speed demon who does has higher DPS. It is up to the player how they can build these characters and in single player, both of the siblings can be swapped at any time, even during combat.
Making either kid specialize in a certain play style guarantees that players will be ready for anything that comes there way. The only draw-back is that when playing the local co-op, both players will have to commit to a single style. Having the freedom to switch to different custom load-outs to only one is hard to go back to.
The only other major strike against Young Souls is its dialogue that feels incongruent with its colorful and chic art style. The visuals are appealing; they’re colorful and characters have striking poses and are animated very fluidly. Expressive gestures and running cycles add a lot of personality to each figure and each have a very defined and recognizable silhouette.
The art can be best described as anime-inspired French comics; like Wakfu meets Splatoon. What makes the experience jarring is that Jenn and Tristan talk like South Park characters. This looks and feels like a game aimed for children, having try-hard dialogue with frequent F-bombs feels out of place.
It is like playing Splatoon and during the cutscenes with the squid sisters, they start cursing up a storm and call each other filthy skanks. It just might raise an eye-brow or two. It clashes with the playful and light visuals and comes off as desperate, instead of cool or transgressive.
Young Souls would have been way funnier if Jenn and Tristan used hilariously out-of-date pejoratives or old-timey insults instead of the cheap and easy vulgarity used in the game. If it weren’t for the crass dialogue, this wouldn’t have been rated M; as there is nothing else in the game to limit who could play it.
The core game content of Young Souls is extremely light in tone. There is no blood and no fanservice outside of making Jenn run around in her underwear by unequipping her clothes or ogling the lady at the gym.
Sadly, Young Souls does not support online co-op. This is a local co-op beatem-up only and some gamers will be rightfully disappointed by this option. Fortunately, the co-op play works about perfectly as one could hope; it is drop in/drop out style, so anyone can join in immediately with a second controller.
Young Souls is a solid and lengthy RPG/beatem-up hybrid. It is held back by some mildly annoying technical issues and load times, but offers plenty of customization for the heroes and is easy on the eyes. When playing on the developer recommended difficulty, expect a pitch perfect challenge that is intense enough to hold the attention of genre veterans.
Young Souls was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by The Arcade Crew. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Young Souls is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Stadia, Xbox one, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.