Three recent indie releases that may have escaped your attention are getting the spotlight today. We’re looking at Nuclear Corps: Veterans in Fukushima, Way Down and 6Souls.
We didn’t expect to see a game that finds inspiration in the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, yet here is Nuclear Corps: Veterans in Fukushima. It’s a PlayStation exclusive that has emerged from the PlayStation Talents program and was developed by Jokoga Interactive. While the theme initially feels like it maybe was chosen in poor taste, the veterans in question are actually the heroes who volunteered to go in and help with the emergency operations following the terrible disaster.
That doesn’t mean that this is some kind of team-based simulation game though – Nuclear Corps is an arcade puzzler with colorful visuals. The team-based element is definitely there though, as the gameplay revolves around using three characters with different skills in order to get all of them to the exit. If that reminds you of The Lost Vikings, then you’re on the right track – though Nuclear Corps is a 3D title.
The Fukushima reference feels unneeded though, as the cartoon-like visuals and mutants that attack you don’t feel grounded in reality and “Nuclear Corps” would have been just fine as a title. And instead of recent world history, fans of games like The Lost Vikings would have been just as happy seeing familiar gameplay elements. One of your three characters has a gun to take out enemies, another has a shield to protect your team while another can travel greater distances with a grappling hook. The game also features the occasional boss fight, which uses your abilities in new and creative ways.
The earlier puzzles in the game feel very by the book and almost tutorial-like though, as there often is a clear solution where the only challenge is to make sure your character do their thing in the right order to make sure the enemies don’t get to you, forcing a restart. Later puzzles feel more inspired, and players who stick with it will certainly have fun. That’s not just referring to the somewhat slow start by the way, it’s also because Nuclear Corps feels a little rough around the edges. It’s something we’ve seen earlier from the PlayStation Talents program, but objects getting stuck in the environment regularly forced us to restart a level. It’s nice to see the Lost Viking formula translated to 3D though, so fans will certainly want to give it a look.
Heists and submarines have one thing in common – they make for great movie themes. Combine then, in a way, and you get The Hunt for the Red October, but then we’re getting off track. Way Down is a movie adaptation based on the recent film by the same name, though it was also distributed as “The Vault” – a story about a group of thieves who use the 2010 World Cup Soccer to stage a heist. Their target: an intricately built vault that’s situated below ground.
Having seen the movie, it was interesting to see how little attention the narrative receives in the videogame version. While a lot of sequences look like key scenes from the movie, little time is spent getting to know the characters, their backgrounds and team dynamics. They’re reduced to their individual skillsets here, which is a wasted opportunity and something that makes it hard for people to get into the game if they haven’t seen the film. Sure, character-building is the hardest party to “gamify”, but we would have settled for flashbacks to help flesh out the characters – even non-playable ones would have helped.
Unfortunately, much of the gameplay feels equally shallow, with scenes that were translated into short mini-game experiences – often of the quick time event kind. There’s tremendous potential for a heist game with Splinter Cell-like stealth gameplay and team-based mechanics where you switch between characters in real time, but Way Down feels more like a retelling of the movie script that’s almost on rails and stops to have you play a few mini-games at times. Perhaps the nature of the plot (this is a heist that is supposed to happen during a soccer match) forces you to keep things rolling along, but surely there are better ways of implementing that.
What also doesn’t help is that the game looks like it’s a PS3-era title as well, which feels especially dated now that we’re in an era where games are better and better at delivering cinematic flair both gameplay and visuals. Thirty years ago nearly every big movie was turned into a videogame and results were often disappointing, and sadly Way Down – despite its interesting premise – doesn’t do much to break that sentiment.
We know that Ratalaika is very prolific when it comes to releasing indie titles for all platforms, but with 6Souls they’ve released what is possibly their best game of 2021. Developed by BUG-Studio, the game is out for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox and the Nintendo Switch.
At first glance, 6Souls looks and feels a lot like a rather generic 2D platformer in the indie scene, with its retro visuals and challenging gameplay. And that first impression isn’t wrong, but 6Souls is especially well crafted and stands out from the crowd because of it. It even has a fun story premise, though it’s not a big factor in the game itself.
You’re Jack, an adventurer who sets out to raid an abandoned castle with the help of his dog Butch. The castle turns out to be enchanted though, with an evil sorcerer who has trapped its citizens in soul crystals. Getting past his monsters and defeating the bosses frees them, but more importantly – it also grants you additional abilities that help you on your journey.
One novel touch is that you can switch between Jack and Butch, but most of the gameplay will feel familiar – traps, enemies and the occasional pick-up (coins for Jack, bacon for Butch) won’t surprise you. The game’s eighty (!) levels are all well designed though, providing a nice balance between challenge and frustration thanks to some responsive controls. Even when the game adds moves (like dashing) the controls feel intuitive enough to not have to fight them, and your moveset is nicely balanced. There’s a block move for when you face enemies, but you’re not entirely safe because you only get three blocks before your defense is broken and each block will also knock you back a bit – possibly into danger.
And although getting all of the game’s trophies isn’t exactly a big challenge, we had a blast playing this to completion. So even if you’re here for Ratalaika’s regular easy trophies – come for the trophies, stay for the excellent challenging indie platformer.