3Souls – An excellent idea, but the execution is lacking


Reviewed August 28, 2016 on Wii U

Leave a comment on Giant Bomb

Disclosure: A Wii U download code was provided by the publisher for this review
Perhaps the biggest complaint regarding the Wii U is that the gamepad is woefully underused. Outside of Super Mario Maker, very few games make good use of it, and it feels like a burden on the system. 3Souls, a three-part episodic platformer from Red Column, seeks to fill that niche. Designed from the ground-up to take full advantage of the hardware, 3Souls is an innovative puzzler-platformer that makes the gamepad make sense, but sadly some missteps along the way make for a mediocre game. The story concept and the world design are good, and the use of the gamepad is admirable, but the two never really come together.

This first episode, Nelesa, introduces the player to the world of Mustland. Mustland is populated by Ánimas, small beings who wear masks and are surrounded by a soul which reveals their current feelings. The gamepad provides a window into this world; the Ánimas' soul is visualised on the screen, and elements such as camera can be controlled to provide a new viewpoint of the world of Mustland. Episode One features the story of Nelesa, who is trapped in the Moon Prison and escapes with the player's help.
At its core, 3Souls is a puzzle-platformer, albeit one with an excellent sense of style. The background art is extremely nice, the subtle soundtrack captures the mood of the game perfectly, and the narrative at the start of the game is great. What sets 3Souls apart from other platformers is its use of the gamepad. The challenges of the levels must be solved by Nelesa and the player working together. Early on, the game introduces fans that are activated by the player blowing into the gamepad's microphone, allowing Nelesa to reach much higher places. Security cameras in the world can be taken over, and by moving the gamepad around, the player can locate hidden platforms that aren't visible from Mustlandian/TV viewpoint. Hidden plaques in the level can be cleaned using the touchscreen, often revealing a hidden map or exit.
These early mechanics generally work well, and the first few levels of 3Souls made a good first impression. There was some trial and error as I learnt the mechanics, and the three life limit before a level must be started over made this frustrating at times, but overall challenges such as watching the motion of a platform on the gamepad whilst moving on the TV were fairly satisfying. Unfortunately, the gamepad integration in the later parts of the game starts to feel forced, and the puzzles can quickly become frustrating.
For instance, a series of security doors are unlocked using a safe tumbler, and the code is input by rotating the gamepad. The size of the gamepad makes this somewhat cumbersome, and inputting a code fast enough to avoid an approaching enemy was more luck than judgement. This is compounded by the fact that some of the these doors have to be unlocked by trial and error - the code cannot be found in the level at all. Furthermore, one code could only be found by scanning a QR code. I like the idea of using the gamepad to see QR codes hidden in a more abstract game world, but scrambling around to find a QR-capable device without any warning isn't a great experience. This is worsened as the QR code is only used once, making the setup effort feel not worth it.

Another example where the gamepad integration doesn't quite work is at a series of coloured locks. Doors can only be unlocked by scanning a certain colour (red, green, or blue) using the gamepad's camera. This is another idea that I like in theory, but the implementation in 3Souls is a little frustrating. The colour range detected by the camera is fairly narrow, and scanning the wrong colour at the wrong time can lead to death (spoiler: Diet Coke can, Blu-ray case, and an Xbox One game case worked for me). Dying three times means the level has to be started over, and needing to restart despite doing the right thing (i.e. knowing the correct colour, but the camera misreads it) isn't fun.
More traditional platforming elements, such as lava pits and moving platforms, are also present, and function largely as one would expect. Though judging a jump onto a moving platform that can only be seen on the gamepad isn't easy, and starting over due to a missed jump isn't fun, this never felt unfair or frustrating as ultimately a bad jump was my fault. Overall, the way the gamepad is used in 3Souls is admirable, and moving between the gamepad screen and the TV worked well, but the actual challenges are frequently frustrating.
This first episode of 3Souls has a intriguing setting and style, but it never really comes together as a game. The challenges aren't particularly fun, which makes enjoying the game's story difficult. It's a shame, because I loved the game's style, but felt pushed away by awkward puzzle designs. I'll definitely check out the second episode, and I hope it gets the balance right next time around. What may help is an option for shorter checkpoints - only redoing a particular challenge rather than the whole level would mitigate the frustration - and the developer has indicated that this is under consideration. There are certainly some good ideas here, and if the future episodes of the game clean up the use of the gamepad, it could certainly be worth playing, but the game as it currently stands is somewhat lacking.
Overall, I can only really recommend 3Souls in its current state if looking for a challenge and some degree of repetition. With some patches or changes in the second episode, it could evolve into a much stronger game, but it isn't quite there yet.