Platform: Xbox 360, iPhone, iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: Unrated
Recently, I had a very bad case of the flu. Not just the common cold, mind you, but a flu blown flu that left me somewhat surprised I didn't come out on the other side as a flesh-eating zombie. When I got out of bed, I was usually greeted by a wave of vertigo and cold chills that tingled even my scalp. My joints felt like broken glass was embedded in the cartilage and I just couldn't seem to get the apartment warm enough. Because of this, I only got out of bed when absolutely necessary; I stayed beneath my comforter, alternately sleeping, watching movies, and playing video games. Which, of course, also meant I wanted a new game. I wanted something new, but inexpensive; something I could easily put down when I started feeling super nasty and pick back up again later. But most of all, I wanted a challenge. Soul, from indie game developer Kydos, fit the bill nicely.
At the beginning of the game, a glowing ball of energy departs a corpse in a decrepit hospital. Your goal is to maneuver this soul through various corridors and scenarios as you try to guide it to Heaven. But there’s always a catch, isn't there? The passages you have to navigate may also, at times, be inhabited by what I think of as soul eaters. These black globs pop up from floors, ceilings, and walls, gnashing their teeth amid primordial roars. Get too close to one of these otherworldly creatures and your unfortunate soul is dragged to the depths of Hell, forcing you to restart the level.
Soul eaters aren't the only obstacles you have to contend with, however. Much like the classic board game, Operation, touching the borders is a definite no-no. Sometimes this forces you to use the utmost stealth on what appears, at first glance, to be a relatively easy level. There’s very little space between the ceiling and the soul eaters at times and progress is made through minute taps on the thumbstick. Needless to say, you build up a sort of muscle memory with this type of stop-and-go level and caution quickly becomes second nature; the developers take full advantage of this, however, by immediately plunging you into the following stage, which is a race against rising water through a network of pipes.
At its core, Soul is a maze game. You start at Point A and have to somehow find your way to Point B in order to progress. The labyrinths are both challenging and unique; whether you’re making your way through a subterranean cavern with only your radiant glow to reveal surroundings or maneuvering through the grotesquely undulating intestines of a soul eater, the challenges so far have felt consistently fresh.
What gives Soul it’s true charm, however, is its dark atmosphere.The colors are very muted in this game, consisting primarily of washed-out looking earth tones. Walls are dirty and cracked, with hints of brick peeking through, and warrens of shadow cluster in corners. This lends a sort of comic-book noire feel to the environments, which jumps into the realm of horror with occasional pop-up scares.
The only thing working against this game is the fact that there’s no way to save your progress. If you exit Soul entirely, you’re forced to start over from the very beginning, replaying the same levels which you previously fought so hard to master. I’m not sure why the developers overlooked what should have been an obvious feature; if forced to hazard a guess, I suspect that maybe this may be a relatively short game and they felt no need to add extra code for something they expected people to finish in a single sitting. Even if that is the case, a save feature would've been nice. In fact, the lack of it is why I cannot, in good conscience, award Soul six out of six demons.
Everything else, however, is spot on... which is why it still comes out on top with an impressive 5 and a half out of 6 demons.