As fans who grew up on button-mashing action become game developers, beat’em-ups are having a moment right now. This genre is fueled by nostalgia, but it’s driven forward with each new release willing to change up the classic formula. One of the best recent examples is Young Souls, a 2D brawler / RPG hybrid that merges modern day gaming with its retro roots.
Developed by 1P2P and published by The Arcade Crew, it’s obvious from Young Souls’ pedigree that it knows the 2D streets (of rage) it came from. The game goes deeper than that – literally – when twin orphans, Tristan and Jenn, discover their adopted father has been kidnapped. Mounting a rescue requires the twins to descend into a subterranean society.
Jenn & Tristan will equip weapons, armor, and more in search of their legal guardian. As they descend into combat the underground hordes, combinations of movement with attack and jump buttons can be expected. Young Souls’ RPG influence adds parrying / blocking, secondary weapons, and mana-based attacks.
Up Where They Walk
The challenge here is a mechanic tied to Young Souls’ characters themselves. Jenn and Tristan are a matched set: either via two player co-op or a single player alternating between twins. Downed players can be resuscitated once apiece, but losing all health on both twins results in an express trip back to the entrance.
Thankfully, the eventual return trip allows you to keep whatever experience and items you found on your last delve for leveling up your character. This can only be done outside of the underground, which encourages players to get to know the less-violent locals and upgrade their characters.
All the while, Young Souls distinguishes itself with eye-catching art direction. Its pastel palette of digital paper dolls is immediately engaging. Practically every piece of clothing and equipment can be visibly altered on Tristan & Jenn. The result balances between YA animated series like Disney’s Gravity Falls and Netflix’s Trollhunter.
Double Dragon’s Lair
Young Souls expresses this balance both narratively and mechanically, as the hybrid mechanics attempt to reconcile its two genre influences. Take the ‘Happy Fit Gym’ minigame. Every two experience levels, the characters gain access to the gym’s stat-boosting minigame. Maximum gains require carefully tapping a button to keep within a constantly moving target.
Staying within this ‘sweet spot’ earns a rating of up to five stars, but it’s tricky to manage. It’s a tension felt throughout the game, especially on the Switch. Loading times can be rough, with hectic fights resulting in screen tearing, slowdown, and crashes. In 2-player mode, it’s even possible to lose one of the characters offscreen if the twins fight too far apart.
In the end, these critiques should be weighed against the ways in which Young Souls is trying to push the boundaries of the genres it’s straddling. An RPG beat’em-up with tag-teaming combo capabilities is a rare beast. Young Souls’ 2D planes reveal surprising depth. Here’s hoping this new potential hybrid genre is given room enough to grow.
SCORE: 8.0 out of 10 Mana Potions