I’ve always been a bit critical of early access games. Why pay for something before it even has a release date? When you don’t even know if it will be properly released? When you have no indication of whether promises about the game’s content will be kept? Well, something has come around that finally motivated me to chip in – CrossCode.
As an “early access” title on Steam, CrossCode is still a work-in-progress. At this point, both a free demo and paid early access version are available. The demo includes the first thirty minutes or so of the game, showing off the base gameplay and the beginning of the story. The early access version includes that, a “puzzle” mode that demos part of the game’s first dungeon, and an “exploration” mode that includes the first town, a few other areas to explore, plenty of NPCs, and more of the RPG mechanics implemented. Along with that, it is intended to be regularly updated as more content for the game is created.
Gameplay-wise, this is a top-down action RPG with the visual style of old-school SNES games such as Chrono Trigger. However, while animations are still managed with 2D sprites, there are some clear technical differences between this and older titles. Some examples are the lighting changes based on cloud-cover, more expansive animations possible with current hardware, or even how items in the environment react to you moving around, such as some plants.
The nostalgiac appeal of the visuals is far from the only draw of the game. What we’re really here for is balls. Er… “Virtual Ricochet Projectile.” That’s the technical term.
The story so far is rather odd. Lea, the mute protagonist (she is actually mute for story reasons) is brought in to a real virtual game world. As in the game world physically exists, but still holds the form and function of a virtual MMO, with people flying around, killing things with fire, leveling up, etc. This comes chock full of meta comments about the developers releasing patches down the line, or “experienced players” offering tutorials.
There’s not really much to this story at this point, but they did a good job of setting up the ideas – how Lea has some past involvement with the game that she can’t remember, the overlap between the real world and game world, and whatever the entire prologue was hinting at. As updates come out, more of the story will be revealed, but the entire plot won’t be available until the full release of the game.
The battle system consists of a basic melee attack, a basic ranged attack, a dodge, a guard, and then various skills that complement each of these. For example, you can get a melee skill that will be a full-circle sweep to damage all surrounding enemies, or a dodge skill that damages anyone in your way when you use the dodge. Along with this, you can also change the element of your attacks, and some skills are specifically compatible with certain elements.
While pretty simple on its own, the battle system works very well with the RPG mechanics, particularly skills. Along with basic upgrades to your stats, the skill upgrades offer some duality. If you unlock either of the neutral melee skills, you essentially unlock both – you can switch between them at will based on whichever fits your play style better. The same variability applies to the dodge, ranged attack, and guard, along with elemental options once you’re reached that point in the skill tree.
In the early access version of the game, one available area to explore is part of the first dungeon. Rather than focusing on the enemies or combat, this prioritizes the puzzles, which are intuitive, but also a bit too simple. They require you to test things to see how the environmental functions work, then use them to progress. So far, most of this is done by manipulating switches that will move blocks or other items in the area, creating platforms. The first dungeon’s boss battle also made use of this general puzzle mechanism, which was pretty cool. If later dungeons add some neat variety and a bit more complexity to these puzzles, I will be very pleased.
The only glaring flaw in what’s available so far is that there are quite a few spelling/grammatical errors. It would be a shame for those to slip through the cracks and end up on the final release, but one of their patch notes mentioned correcting some of these, so at least they seem to be on top of the issue.
As it is now, the foundation of this game is very promising. The battle system is simple and fun, the RPG mechanics are effective, and the story will hopefully be fleshed out into an interesting experience. The developers have said that they’re aiming for a 15-ish hour story and an early 2016 release, so I’m just hoping that there will be a lot of side content along with the story.
And after saying that Shovel Knight and Hotline Miami were nothing special, someone assumed I was on a crusade to bash indie games. Trust me, that is not my intention. Between those games and CrossCode, there is one simple difference – this is fun.
Play time – The demo has about 30 minutes of material, and the early access version has 2+ hours of content at this point.
Recommendation – Play the demo to get a feel for things. If you enjoy that, wait a few months before considering whether or not you’re fine with getting the game in early access. At this point, it’s just showing off the basics, so I would recommend waiting until closer to release just to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth.