Some games feature well-balanced, interesting mechanics, but somehow just miss the mark. While there might not be any problem with the game mechanically, something just doesn’t feel fun. These games lack juice, or game feel. Game feel is the intangible, tactile sensation experienced when playing video games and, while often not totally necessary to the mechanical design, can turn a boring, unimpressive game into an action-packed, visually stunning experience. Even better, it can turn well designed games into intense, exciting combat masterpieces, as is the case with CrossCode.
CrossCode is a single player top-down Action-RPG set in the distant future. In this time, a popular MMO, CrossWorlds, is played on a real life island with physical avatars. This means that as you explore you’ll run into “players” and NPCs alike discussing everything from nearby quests to how annoying some of the puzzles are. Players of this futuristic RPG choose a class and set forth across the gameworld to find the Secret of the Ancients. You have a different goal, however. As Lea, an avatar who lost her memories for unknown reasons, you must explore the island in search of answers with the help of those you meet along the way. Strange forces plot against you and Lea will require the help of her friends, as well as their unique powers and abilities, to survive in CrossWorlds.
CrossCode features intense, fast-paced combat with elements taken directly from twin-stick shooters and bullet-hell type games. As “spheromancer” Lea, you can fire projectiles that ricochet off of walls and into enemies. Different enemies possess different strengths and weaknesses though, so you’ll often need to fight up close and personal. Lea’s melee attack is powerful and able to strike numerous enemies at once. It can also interrupt certain enemy attacks, giving you the chance to really beat down on some monsters. Most enemies interact with Lea’s attacks in specific ways and learning these different interactions is key to progressing through the game.
One of the most immediately noticeable aspects of CrossCode is just how juicy it is. In game design, juice refers to how the game feels when you strip it down to its basic mechanics. This can be felt by the player in the second-to-second action and can often turn fun mechanics into intense experiences pulsing with life. CrossCode uses a variety of effects to pull this off, including flashy particle effects, dynamic sound, and more than a little bit of screenshake. All of this makes every action feel heavy and powerful. Melee attacks have strength behind them, while your ranged attacks surge with magical energy. Even the attacks of your party members feel impressive. It’s these effects, combined with the large amount of strategic choice, that will have you playing CrossCode long into the night just to level up one more time.
As you level up, CrossCode offers a huge amount of progression options. New “circuits” provide different combat abilities and upgrades offering various strategies to experiment with without committing to any one style. This immense amount of choice can be overwhelming, especially early on. Each and every screen associated with the character, be it the inventory or status page or map, comes with some tutorial. Stopping in battle or while exploring to learn or relearn some random mechanic absolutely destroys the flow that the game works so hard to cultivate. The different powers and combat styles are a lot of fun to play with though, especially as you progress later in the game.
CrossCode is a 16-bit adventure across different landscapes and environments. Visually reminiscent of Super Nintendo RPGs, CrossCode is a stunning masterpiece. Beautiful pixel art is used to generate magical, atmospheric locations ranging from cities, to ships, to enchanted forests. Enemies are unique and easily identifiable with designs often hinting at gameplay mechanics. Larger bosses have even more intricate animations and attacks making those battles memorable and intense.
Being a single player RPG set in a futuristic MMO, CrossCode reminds me a little bit of Westworld, without all the existential mind games. Smooth, exciting combat interlaced with interesting puzzles keep the game engaging over the 30 – 80 hour play time. Upgradable abilities with powerful effects provide strong incentive and reward for solving the mystery surrounding the strange game. CrossCode is an incredibly fun, if not overwhelming and occasionally confusing, adventure game.
It's also worth mentioning that if you're looking to get CrossCode in the much loved psychical form, Strictly Limited Games are producing it for both the Switch and PS4. Head over to the pre-order page to learn more.