- Release Date (NA): July 9, 2020
- Release Date (EU): July 9, 2020
- Publisher: Deck13
- Developer: Radical Fish Games
- Genres: Puzzle, RPG
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
CrossCode takes place in a future where technology enables MMO games to take place in the real world. Gamer’s avatars are synchronized, complete with 5 senses, in a dedicated play zone within the physical world and go about completing quests in CrossWorlds, the in-game game (meta!). CrossWorlds players, named Seekers, have to follow the Track of the Ancients, or a set of challenges concocted by the cryptic Ancients laid out in a series dungeons and quests.
You play as one such Seeker, Lea, whose memories have been wiped and, to top it off, a bug prevents her from talking. Guided by real-world programmer Sergey, you are tasked to find her identity by venturing forth in CrossWorlds, exploring its 7 diverse areas, clearing dungeons, while meeting other Seekers. As you progress and regain Lea’s memories, the pieces of the puzzle as to how she found herself amnesiac in a game will start to fit together and display the bigger, darker picture that the colorful palette of CrossCode hides.
Visually, CrossCode strikes hard on the retro nostalgia chord. Its top-down, 2D graphics could easily confound one as coming from an SNES game. In fact, even its official description labels it as packing “16-bit SNES-style graphics.” Its visuals are a reminiscent blend of A Link To The Past and Secret of Mana, supplemented with original audio straight from the glorious 2D gaming era. It's an audiovisual delight that is brought to life throughout its 30-80 hours (!) of playtime with meticulous details in every scene. These scenes are brought to life with the numerous chatty NPCs, some of whom have side quests to offer, most of which are filler fetch quest which nevertheless breath some life in the game and encourage exploration.
Hammering in the stellar presentation done by the developers is the make-believe MMORPG aspect of CrossWorld. While CrossCode is an offline game, its plot mostly takes place in an MMO game and this is masterfully depicted. You notice fellow Seekers running past you as they head to their next destination; you can find them discussing gameplay features, sharing their stories, befriending fellow players--there are even guilds to join and the game's lore to unravel through exploration. You’ll eventually join one such guild and pair up with fellow newcomers like Emilienator and C’tron who bring about lively discussions in your party, as well as help you out in battles (except in dungeons which are done solo).
Even if CrossCode looks and sounds like a retro game, it plays like a contemporary game. This is thanks to its fresh mechanic that blends RPG and puzzle mechanics into one and a twin-stick control scheme alien to the SNES era. As an RPG, you’ll have to manage Lea’s equipment, advance her skill tree and engage in real-time combat as you progress from one region to another. Then there’s the puzzle aspect where you have to use a ricocheting, ball-throwing mechanic to activate switches to progress in dungeons or side quests.
Lea’s twin-stick, ball-throwing technique is also an integral aspect of the combat. By taking advantage of closed spaces and environmental features, you can do more damage with a single ball throw as it bounces off surfaces and does multiple hits. Moreover, other than long-range, ball-hurling attacks, you can also block, dodge and perform melee moves on enemies. Mixing these make for fast-paced battle rounds that feel satisfying to execute thanks to the fluid, intuitive controls.
Battles are quite challenging, often pitting you against one tough enemy, only to find two more emerge right after your short-lived victory. But then the ensuing victory feels even more satisfying, provided that you didn’t die already. In this way, CrossCode forces you to stay on top of your game, by optimizing your equipment, making use of recovery items and leveling up Lea’s stats via the skill tree. It can feel unforgiving at times and force you to grind and seek better equipment, an aspect I’m not particularly a fan of in RPGs. Thankfully, the developers made the difficulty settings adjustable on-the-fly if you want to enjoy the game without much of a challenge.
Additionally, puzzles also offer quite the challenge but unlike battles, their difficulty can’t be adjusted. It mostly takes some trial-and-error and close scrutiny of your environs to know where the ball can reach and if you need to be on a higher altitude to hit a certain switch. However, solutions to puzzles aren’t as obvious at times and a hint would be helpful in these situations, but CrossCode unfortunately lacks those. Nevertheless, successfully completing puzzles gives a rewarding feeling, almost comparable to defeating the game’s towering bosses.
Indeed, CrossCode offers a lot to take in, with the RPG mechanic, tough fights and head-scratching puzzles, which all add up to have players face a noticeable learning curve. However, as you get the hang of it, you’ll get to appreciate the seamless blend of RPG and puzzle tactics that move the game forward and which gives it a unique edge. Such a blend of genres is tricky, as I noticed in my recent review of Disintegration, which mixed RTS and FPS gameplay at the expense of key features. CrossCode on the other hand is not lacking in puzzle nor RPG features, hence the initial steep learning curve, but which plays in its favor in the long run.
I played the Nintendo Switch version of CrossCode and the console does feel like a perfect fit for the game, especially in handheld mode. However, I did notice some sporadic framerate drops, which were more noticeable in enemy-heavy scenes with lots of movements during battle frenzies. Personally, this hiccup didn’t bother me nor made me feel at a disadvantage but it’s still surprising that the Switch has difficulties handling such a less graphically-demanding game.
Nevertheless, if you are a fan of RPG titles looking for something new to play, CrossCode should be your next game to consider diving into. It offers a fresh mechanic which sits well in the RPG genre, offers scalable difficulty for every level of gamers and offers an intriguing plot in a beautifully crafted world. It’s not a perfect title, especially with the occasional need to grind and the trial-and-error aspect of its compulsory puzzles, but its presentation and the novelty of its gameplay compensate to make for a memorable experience. And at $20 on the Nintendo eShop, it's well worth the cost.
For collectors, there’s also are physical, boxed versions (yes, plural) ready to be pre-ordered right now via this link.
CrossCode - Coming to Switch & PlayStation 4 - Official Announcement Trailer
|What We Liked . . . Seamless blend of RPG and puzzle gameplay mechanic Presentation Challenging, yet satisfying gameplay||What We Didn't Like . . . Learning curve Puzzles lack hint and often rely on trial-and-error Occasional need to grind Some framerate issues on Switch|
Radical Fish Games crafted a believable MMO experience in an offline game with beautiful, lively aesthetics.
CrossCode manages to successfully merge two genres into one but the puzzles could use some hints over relying on trial-and-error and the RPG aspect would benefit from less need to grind.
Despite its retro look, CrossCode packs over 30 hours of playtime, with quite an initial learning curve, and more if you wish to indulge in the side quests which are unfortunately mostly random fetch quests.
out of 10
(not an average)
A hidden indie gem that will surely entice RPG fans with its nostalgic look, excellent presentation and unique blend of puzzle and RPG mechanics.