Date: March 10, 2022
It seems like every new game that comes out requires more hyphenated descriptors than the last one. Today’s impressively long list of adjectives comes courtesy of Young Souls, a co-op side-scrolling beat-em-up dungeon-crawler RPG developed by 1P2P and published by The Arcade Crew. The game features two twins leveling up and collecting cool new armor, weapons, and sneakers as they attempt to rescue their adoptive father and save their town.
The game encourages co-op — and I don’t have a twin — so I had my fellow EIP writer Spannah play with me. Since we played the game together, it only made sense to also review the game together. We talked about Young Souls for quite a while after we finished it; what follows is a transcript — edited for readability and to remove the uhhs and most of the bad jokes — of that conversation.
DanielD: Let’s start with overall impressions, now that we’ve beaten the game. What did you think about Young Souls?
Spannah: So, the art style is cool, great really. The story is – I guess it was OK, there was some nuance with “maybe killing goblins is actually bad” – the humans were morally grey, instead of just being the good guys. But the combat was the issue in the game for me. The way the combat flows, the difficulty; it was either way too hard or too easy. Even in the moments where you felt like you were doing a good job, it didn’t feel super satisfying. The parrying is super forced – if you don’t parry, you’re going to have a bad time basically.
D: I agree, I thought a lot of the mini-boss fights ended up feeling kind of repetitive – not just because many were reskins, but because you had to parry to remove their resistance and do any meaningful damage to them. I guess you could theoretically kill them without parrying, but it would take you a long time.
S: Yeah, you could run around and use your bow and gadgets, but that playstyle isn’t exactly fun.
D: Let’s talk about the gadgets though – I thought they were neat, and I liked the way they had a cooldown so you couldn’t exactly abuse them. It added variety to the combat that was sorely lacking otherwise.
S: Yeah, for sure. They were impactful enough to be worth using and relying on. The upgrades for them also felt meaningful, which is always nice.
D: Let’s dig more into the combat, since that’s really the main gameplay loop. I’m surprised how we both felt at the end of the game, since when we tried the preview, I recall us both enjoying the combat. What do you think it was exactly that made us change our minds?
S: I think it was overall repetitiveness, because of the aforementioned parrying reliance. Also, all the attack combos are short: every weapon has only 2 or 3 hit combos, and there’s only one attack besides the special attack, which costs mana. I guess you could block though, right?
D: Right, but the enemies later in the game break it fairly quickly.
S: To be fair, there were a lot of different weapons that all felt pretty different, and the special attacks are everything from a spinning move to summoning spiders or throwing fireballs. But the weapons still end up kind of samey because the movesets, although they look different, function just like fast or slow versions of the same thing (except for the weapons with AOE, that was about the only real difference).
D: That’s true. One other issue I had with the combat was that the beat-em-up style of combat – where you can only attack left or right, but can move up and down – didn’t always feel intuitive. Many enemy attacks only go left or right, as do most of yours, but some AOE effects, some tools, and some enemy attacks could track diagonally, and sometimes enemies would move vertically to track you in the middle of an attack. It just didn’t feel consistent, and therefore felt frustrating to die to something unexpected.
S: Yeah, and if you’re expected to parry, and it doesn’t feel consistent, it just isn’t going to feel good.
D: I think it was really close though – to being a great combat system, I mean. I thought the way they limited rolls, the way guarding worked, and how enemies flew around the room was all really cool and satisfying; it was just the way enemies were unpredictable and how it sometimes felt cheap how you died that messed it up. Oh, and how impossible the game was to read with all the particle effects.
S: Some enemies also had super quick attacks that didn’t leave you much room to parry, and your block would also break – when your block breaks, you’re vulnerable to a followup attack. It felt like cheap shots basically. As far as readability, when I played solo, that issue basically went away.
D: That makes sense, with one less player there’s one less source of serious visual clutter. Speaking of solo vs co-op, we should talk about the camera issues in co-op. After all, this is a game with two twins, by a developer called 1P2P – I was pretty surprised how poor the game played in co-op.
S: Yeah… on many occasions, it felt pretty arbitrary which player the camera would follow. It would pick one player, and the other player ended up off-camera, vulnerable to enemy attack and unable to see what was going on.
D: It drove me pretty crazy. Enemies kept stabbing me from off-screen! Alright, we’ve ragged on the game a lot so far, but there was plenty to like. I know you specifically kept talking about how cool it looked.
S: The art style was great. There were only a few cutscenes, but the way they used 2D and 3D together was really impressive. The game itself just looked cool, it was just the gameplay that was an issue.
D: I agree, I think it has a very distinct style, and the way the combat was animated — although it made the game unreadable at times — was really fun to look at.
S: Yeah, the bosses all looked distinct and really interesting. They all had their own styles, with their own particle effects. The enemies sometimes looked reskinned and repetitive, but they looked so cool that it was OK.
D: I did think that there were too many familiar enemies by the end of the game. Heck, weren’t there bosses that we realized had basically the same movesets as a regular enemy?
S: I think those were mini-bosses.
D: OK good point. So, I didn’t have sound on (because we were using Parsec to play remotely and it made a horrible screeching noise that made it impossible for me to hear anything), but what did you think about the sound design?
S: ….Eh… There were a lot of metal sounds.
D: What are metal sounds? You mean like Iron Maiden?
S: The shields, parrying. A lot of clanking and clunking. I don’t remember the music that well honestly, but it felt repetitive.
D: I feel like that’s a theme in this conversation, repetition. I almost want to say that – and I know this is crazy since Steam’s already full of them – that this should have been a roguelike. You already have to go through the same rooms over and over (and the rooms are pretty similar) to do run-backs to bosses, and I didn’t really want to do much shopping, so it almost feels like the game needed to lean into the repetition and the samey enemies and just make it a roguelike.
S: Yeah, I definitely agree with that.
D: Let’s address the shopping actually. I think if you were someone who just loves this art style, and dug the twins, that it would be fun to wander to all the shops every so often, but you and I were whining about the long wait times between areas pretty early on in our playthrough.
S: Yeah, the action was constantly interrupted by loading screens: every time you found a new gate, every time you found a new door that led to a hallway that lead to another door… and there were tons of unskippable transitions every time to you wanted to go back to town or to the gate that lets you choose a level. The fast-forwarding through these transition scenes was stylized, but ultimately impractical. It also broke the game sometimes.
D: Right, you couldn’t see the guy who sold swords if you went too fast through that loading screen.
S: You also couldn’t speed up the level-up sleeping scene, or it would break as well.
D: Ah, yes. I feel like we’re being so harsh – I guess the game did frustrate us a lot. I think I had really high expectations after the preview, because we’d had so much fun.
S: Same. The preview felt really good, and I was really looking forward to an actually good co-op game – that’s the part that attracted me the most. But the longer the game went on, the more the camera issues bothered me, and the more the combat started to feel less than fun. I feel like I’m still bashing the game here [laughs]… One thing that surprised me was how much better the game felt in solo. The way you were incentivized to swap between the two characters – it would regenerate your health to a certain extent, and the game was way more readable. The combat still had its issues, but it still felt miles better.
D: Again, it seems so weird that they didn’t optimize the game for two players. Would you recommend it as a one-player game?
S: I think it might be fun as a one-player game (if you enjoy the combat).
D: You used to love beat-em-ups as a kid, so I’m trusting your opinion here. How does Young Souls compare to the classic beat-em-up like TMNT games?
S: Old beat-em-ups were much more straightforward – there was no parrying, no dodge button, it was just much more “beating them up” and less, I guess less tedious stuff. It was straight to the point fun.
D: So you don’t feel like all the extra stuff in Young Souls adds the combat experience of a beat-em-up?
S: I think it could have if it was better executed. It felt like a more modern take on the genre – with stamina, parrying, etc. But enemies being able to hit you diagonally when you can’t hit them diagonally, the way enemy attacks are sometimes unreadable – it ended up souring the experience.
D: I think that’s my overall feeling on the game too – there are so many near misses.
S: A bunch of great ideas, but not well executed.
D: Man, it sucks because I really wanted to like Young Souls. Even with the way the story unfolds, every time I was getting into it, a conversation would go on twice as long as it needed to. It’s the same with the combat, where just when I was getting in a flow I would get smacked by something unexpectedly and it would totally take me out of the rhythm.
S: Or when we’d get two loading scenes back to back with transitions, with no combat or dialog in between.
D: Exactly. The game in general felt like the pacing was maybe the biggest miss – I think if there were more chances to just do combat, with no incentive to go back and level up, or sit through a cut-scene, I might have gotten a better sense of how it worked. But we’d get stuck on one section, bang our heads against the wall, then take 5 minutes to level up, buy shoes, and so on, and then we’d get back to combat and I’d have to get back in the groove.
S: I think we should touch on the difficulty too. So, the recommended difficulty – challenging – was, in my opinion, way too difficult. I usually play all of my games on hard, by default, so this was a surprise. Even going a step down to Balanced felt unfun, but then the next step down, to Relaxed, made the game feel like you could mindlessly button mash, which wasn’t fun either.
D: What about the accessibility options?
S: There were a bunch of interesting settings, like changing your HP or enemy HP, or increasing your attack speed – but it didn’t feel like it let you take the game enough in any direction to get it where I wanted.
D: I have to agree, and besides, I don’t want to do game balance! I just want to play, I don’t know how to balance a game – I just know when it doesn’t feel right. This is another thing that might be personal preference though – I bet there are plenty of people who can play on Balanced with some of the player buffs turned on and have a good time, especially if they’re playing solo.
S: That’s true. Some options, like being able to parry in the middle of an attack, felt way better when enabled – and those options are disabled by default. It felt like it was up to you to dig into the menu to find these options, and they make the game so much better.
D: Right. Again, it shouldn’t be the player’s job to make the game fun, that’s on the devs. So is it safe to say that this probably isn’t a great choice for co-op (unless they fix the camera issues in a patch or something), but that a solo player who appreciates the art style and has always wanted a Dark Souls meets side-scrolling beat-em-up should check this out?
S: For sure! Though, it’s still surprising that Young Souls plays better as a 1P game… when it’s from a developer called1P2P.
D: I hear ya. I’m still looking forward to what the developers come out with next, because you can tell that Young Souls was a labor of love, and that they care about making good games. Even if this one didn’t land for you or me, it might work for some people, and so much of the game was so close to greatness.
Young Souls releases today on PC (via Steam), PS4, Switch, and XBox1.
Despite our personal issues with it, we believe that Young Souls is a well-made and lovingly crafted game. Judging by other critical reviews from when the game was released on Stadia, many players enjoyed this title, so don’t let our review stop you from checking it out! Still, everyone’s gotta speak their truth, and this review is ours.