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Fractured Soul - 3DS Download Review

Game Info
Fractured Soul

3DS Download | Endgame Studios | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | $11.99
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15th October 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

There've been several times in the past where I've found myself on the receiving end of unwanted attention. I can recall one particular instance where I felt like a beacon or something, on account of being followed by someone rather relentlessly. This eventually led me to lash out at the person -- an action I felt really bad about after the fact because they really did have sincere intentions. But I learned first-hand what it was like to be in a position opposite to the one I had been in many times before as an attention giver. Giving greater reason for complaint is when someone really intent on pressing your buttons goes about imitating your every action in a room full of people. At least in my situation, because it took place in a large environment, I could create some distance between myself and the person by physically removing myself from the situation. In a more confined space, you might not have that luxury -- certainly not in the immediate sense if you're there under compulsion. Similar basic conditions apply in Fractured Soul.

    In what I'd call an equal partnership, Fractured Soul has you trading freedom to be, in a sense, permanently handcuffed to a copy of yourself. While it might seem like a good idea at first to have a clone who can make up for not having a second set of arms, you mustn't forget that this also comes with the burden of uniformity, which prevents you from exploring all desired avenues (and you can just forget about assigning blame when something goes wrong!). With this understanding, it can be said that such terms are neither practical nor convenient. And yet, even with this two-for-one deal stressing the need for a lighter atmosphere to outweigh the perceived restrictions, Fractured Soul explores flexible game design in its own way, and it is largely this allowance that has paved the way for a nicely-cultivated platforming experience.

    As you can already tell, Fractured Soul's premise is one that you've probably seen before in earlier forms, playing on the idea of having a split personality. How this concept is opened up in the gameplay setting is by giving players control of two characters at the same time; persons that are joined together in their movements, yet separated by a dimensional rift whereby only one can remain as the active controller at any given time. The two unnamed individuals are inseparable, being that they are essentially the same person, simply projected across settings that bear striking similarities as well as subtle, sometimes bold differences. With synchronicity being the core principle at work, players will regularly find that the chambers and passageways in each level are arranged in such a way that you might wind up sensing a muted confusion over the frequency with which one must flip between the two screens. The games platforming toys with this central mechanic quite well by presenting abbreviated puzzles that emphasize reflexes, and require a bit of foresight as well.

Besides the end destination cast out for you, little directives are imposed upon the player, both at the very beginning and over the course of the levels one must complete. Related to that is the soft presence of a story that doesn't do much to yank players by the ear or really serve a notable purpose. Throughout the entire experience, haikus are used to convey a developing story, giving the initial feeling that players are walking into a continuation of some unknown, ongoing struggle, the background plot of which I would've loved to see explored in a more intrusive capacity. Still, just for the way it identifies levels in a way that's different from the norm, there's room early on to generate praise. And, happy to say, this continues as you press onward.

    The game's controls are well-adapted for the environment and bring with them an ease for penetration in being completely problem-free. It's as simple as moving with the Circle Pad, pressing B to jump or double jump, A to shoot, and using either L or R to swap between the two characters. It is for good reason, too, that the controls don't impede you in any way or otherwise make it difficult to get into the experience. The design of the game is such that players must move in a narrow fashion, overcoming small hurdles in the way of enemy forces and laser traps. Inherently, the marriage of two entities working in tandem across unified environments is a very calculated measure of progressive behaviour, and being that it maintains a pattern of sorts in the way that it organizes its platforming affairs, there's a natural impediment to the thought of the game welcoming players with open arms. As such, it gives rise to the question of how approachable the gameplay execution can really present itself in its ties to an admittedly bold concept without being interpreted as relaxed or, on the other extreme, outright stiff.

    For this reason, it is of note that the design not once feels or even becomes overbearing, nor is it treated early on with a sharp curve that one must move with at an uncomfortable pace. Rather, the methods with which Fractured Soul communicates its creative notions are quite level-headed, and what is more, they effectively rebuff the thought of a low-powered, stagnant design structure. Working well with this is the presence of invisible checkpoints that level out the difficulty to reduce any pain that might be felt from bruises sustained after multiple defeats. Fractured Soul is anything if consistent about the way it manages its systems with taste, equipping players with an observable sense of preparedness that puts them in good standing with what is in store.

Despite the above comments, there is a dependency that evidences itself early on and it is not until much later that this begins to fade into the background. Running in opposition to the apparent desire for fresh delivery is the rather emphatic repetition seen in chunks of the level designs. Exhibiting a sometimes mechanical framework, it's not uncommon for players to go through similar sets of circumstances on repeat terms, presumably to give equal exposure time for both characters, but from the standpoint of player expectations, it is something that dilutes the overall effectiveness seen in this area.

    I could understand why this was done from the get-go as a means of setting a tone for the game, which goes back to the point I made earlier on preparedness. But for the game to launch itself towards a sort of equilibrium well on into the experience was something I questioned. It struck me as an act of overconfidence to narrow the outer ring of creativity in this way and almost be a bit reserved, but thankfully, what I sensed moving deeper into the game was a construction that broadened beyond its means (as far as what was originally suggested), and that was exciting to witness.

    In order to maintain continuity as the concept gets fleshed out, what you see taking place in later levels is an alteration to the definition of space manipulation as it was originally conveyed, with the design yielding to allow place for a positive shift towards being more asymmetrical in nature. Assimilating this is the introduction of water, ice, fire, and gravity elements, all of which abide by a newly-introduced rule that the player on the top be given special consideration by having to bear up against conditions the other does not. So, for example, when dealing with the heated environments, players must guard against spending too much time with the fellow on the upper screen. It's almost like they want to sever the relationship, but this is really for the better, because ultimately what this does is embed the game with enough fortitude to withstand the bigger threat of waning interest levels on the part of your average player. The fact that these changes don't merely pertain to the presentation helps sustain a balanced appetite within players, elevating gameplay to a new, almost restorative state, the cusp of which is quite creative in the way it has come out and then been supported. Though not to a rousing extent, these supporting executions divert attention somewhat from the natural appeal of the concept and concentrate more on the developing level design in company with the varied approaches, thusly emphasizing tangible, consequence-driven depth above finer details.

In a similar expression of tweaking activity, there's a whole other set of levels different from that of your standard platforming stages that take the form of space-bound shooter sections. Continuing on the same principle used to define the influence that the above elements have on the design, an energy gauge is applied to both screens to prevent you from giving too much attention to one over the other. With each enemy kill regenerating lost energy, players must get to the end without having one of the ships explode prematurely. How these stages are connected to the vision is not clearly understood, so while the difference in gameplay that these segments carry is appreciated as well as the fact that they aren't just brief segments jammed into other levels, these missions feel like they were thrown in with very little relevance to the actual concept other than the application of the aforementioned restriction.

    Regardless of the stage chosen, you'll always be treated to great production values, with camera angles that are somewhat set in their ways but are known to offer nice views now and again, and circumstances that are by no means fancy but, again, have decent touches to them to discourage the game from settling into one set visual arrangement. The template is marked by plenty of grays and darker tones with backgrounds that have some movement to them whenever you cross open or windowed areas. For the most part, this approach works and continues to do so even as the colours change with each passing world and newly-introduced environmental element. Last but not least, the music is of the techno variety, and if you're into that sort of thing, you'll find it to be similarly likeable even though it's not all that memorable.

    As far as content, Fractured Soul does a good job of not tearing itself apart in the sense that its length is well-proportioned, not going on longer than it needs to. Mixed in with the standard assortment of levels are three boss encounters, two of which are set after the model of the shooter stages, while one is managed on foot. As it happens, the final boss is pretty uneventful and, stemming from that, the ending is highly anticlimactic, but what helps the game's case is the fact that it feels very much geared towards gamers with a strong desire to engage in the completionist mindset. And with 30 levels in all -- many of which offer online leaderboards to measure your performance -- as well as special collectibles placed in risky areas, there's much to dial in to. Even further proof to this is the presence of bonus levels, with unlock conditions tied to stars accumulated from completing levels in full. So yes, not only is there a great attachment to accomplishment, but it is one that you'll feel driven to seek after. As a result, players should easily see to four hours of playtime at the minimum, with extended gameplay possibilities allowing you to go well beyond that.

For a game that's seemingly fashioned after a dysfunctional spirit, Fractured Soul sure goes about making its talents known through stable and fairly conventional means. And rather than concealing this underneath a great deal of extraneous content or simply prolonging its arrival, the game's figurative walls are lowered right from the preliminary stages, thus leaving it in a rather sensitive position. How players will react to this won't be some great mystery, though. The fact is platforming fans will love the way the game presents twists, not to sell the concept, but to enhance it and ultimately make for a more compelling experience than it otherwise would be if it relied strictly on its level designs to extend its creativity. Even though it isn't beaming with imaginative creativity, Fractured Soul is still bound to produce a lasting impact that will be remembered even as stronger experiences from this genre fall into place.

24/30 - Very Good

Gameplay 7/10 - Explores its vision to a certain flexibility and creativity, shooter levels are fine for what they are, room for improvement in some areas
Presentation 8/10 - Admirable production values, usually follows a suitable visual template but does venture away from it on occasion, good quality music
Enjoyment 4/5 - Gradual twists on the formula keep the experience engaging, balanced difficulty, quite approachable, not at all rigid in its approach
Extra Content 5/5 - Plenty of content to sustain a good chunk of playtime, online leaderboards, collectibles for completionists, star ratings

Equivalent to a score of 80% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Fractured Soul
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