In the somewhat short time that Iíve owned my 3DS Iíve stumbled onto some pretty interesting titles. One such acquisition is Endgame Studiosí action platformer Fractured Soul for the Nintendo 3DS. I love a good side-scrolling platformer like any other old-school gamer and I can definitely say that Fractured Soul has changed the way I will look at the genre for some time.
Fractured Soul is a rather unique experience that will test not only your hand-eye coordination but your resolve and patience as well. Fractured Soul isnít just a metaphor for a troubled being; it describes the very mechanics found in this intense platformer. Unlike most 3DS games, and most DS ones for that matter, Fractured Soul uses both screens simultaneously for some of the most intense platformer action ever made. Iíve seen some games use both screens to show the graphics off instead of squashing it all on one screen, but this is a bittersweet and welcome use of the 3DS's potential.
There is a story in Fractured Soul somewhere to explain the name and what's going on with the crazy phase-shifting powers of the protagonist character known only as Entity but they seem to be lost to Fractured Soul's more defining features. Gameplay revolves around making your way through simple platform jumps through corridors and climbing shafts via ladders... at first. When they start throwing in blocked passage ways, vanishing platforms, enemies and lot of lasers things quickly get a lot more intense.
Fear not though as Entity has a few tricks up its "sleeves" to aid you. Getting though each level requires quick decisions and constant monitoring of both the upper and lower screens in some of the toughest gameplay since the Nintendo Hard era. At first the two screens appeared almost identical, but it wasn't long before I found out I couldn't continue any further on the bottom screen only to look up at the top screen and see the next piece in the path be it ladder or platform. To progress you have to combine well-timed jumps and hit either shoulder buttons to switch Entity's solid form from the bottom screen to the top screen and vice versa. Sometimes this must be done in mere seconds to make a landing on the other side of a suspended laser field.
One of my favorite things about Fractured Soul is that there is diversity in the levels. Early on you are in simple corridors but the top screen soon changes into an underwater area while the bottom screen stays the same. This not only changes up the scenery but changes the very physics of the game. When you are solid in the upper underwater screen you move slower but are able to jump much higher than you could in the lower screen. There are even areas that are like being in an oven and you canít spend too much time on that screen lest you burn to death. I particularly liked the levels where the gravity would be reversed, which added a nice new element to deal with.
Fractured Soul is tough to the point of frustrating at times. Keeping an eye out for enemies which serve as another element to constantly challenge you is slow in some areas compared to others. Sometimes you have to take them out on the fly with no time to set up the kill shot as the level might require you to do so while hopping across disappearing platforms at a moments notice. Remember Mega Man...Yeah, Fractured Soul is that crazy. I do like the little things like having to destroy a machine on both screens to make it go away and the few divergences from all the platforming. Mixed among the levels are a few R-Type style space levels that have you switching back and forth in fast paced shooter combat to take out enemy ships to stay alive. I particularly enjoyed the final boss once I finally got there, no small feat, and having to use both screens to take it down. It was far more of a challenge than some of the mini-bosses and often all too easy to fool normal enemies.
There will come a time that you will probably have to set the 3DS down and walk way from Fractured Soul due to its difficulty. There are checkpoints in place throughout most of the levels that help relieve a little of the frustration of repeated deaths due to misjudged jumps and mistimed phase-shifts. The downside is that some levels require a near perfect run in one shot to get through them as there are no checkpoints on which to rely. There will be mistakes and many trial and error attempts as I can attest to, but I do like a decent challenge.
Fractured Soul is diverse in its visual presentation and art style. The bottom screen could look like your traveling though a ship's normal corridors while the top could have you running through areas that are far less so. The graphical detail is sort of a mixed bag though. The levels actually look pretty good for the most part though the character models and some areas look a little unpolished on the 3DS. There is also no 3D support to speak of in this game, which at first I found to be odd. I quickly found that it really isn't feasible in a title such as this due to its dual screen nature. As you progress into the increasingly difficult levels of Fractured Soul, the clarity of the graphics almost takes a backseat to your concentration at simply getting through them. Fractured Soul makes decent use of the 3DS's sound system delivering crisp sound effects and ambient noise as well as the accompanied techno music.
As if Fractured Soul isn't hard enough, it does contain a few features for the truly ambitious. Personally I was happy to just make it through the game. Each level has a set number of secrets to find in the form of blue crystals. These are spread out on either of the two screens which makes keeping an eye out for them particularly difficult. Most are out in the open on the player's path but some are a little more devious. To top it off, each level also has a par time that you can try and beat. This offers plenty of opportunities for speed runners to test their moxie and to brag to the world and their friends via the online leaderboards.
Fractured Soul is easily one of the toughest titles that I've ever played on my 3DS and I've played a few of them over the last year. I really enjoyed the concept of controlling the same character on not one but two screens simultaneously. If you though Mighty Switch Force was crazy you haven't even begun to see anything until you play Fractured Soul for the 3DS. Prepare to have your mind Fractured.