Soulstice, the character action game from Reply Game Studios, doesn’t ask a lot of you. If you’re a regular Devil May Cry fan, this game will probably look a little lacking in comparison. It’s much smaller in scope and lacks the honed-in fluidity that fuels Capcom’s iconic series. And if you’re mostly new to character action games, like me, you might have to lower your expectations to appreciate the game’s limited, but admirable ambitions.
Despite the name, Soulstice is not anywhere close to a Soulslike (opens in new tab). It’s a fast-paced action game that briefly stalls every time your weapon collides with an enemy, whose bodies go flying as you swing your massive weapons around its open combat arenas. It even cuts to different camera angles as you lead main character Briar through its grimy, dark fantasy locations. Soulstice isn’t a copy of games like Bayonetta, but it’s deeply inspired by them and it shows.
It has some Nier: Automata in it too. Briar has a ghostly sister named Lute that sits on her shoulder much like the pods. In the 40-minute demo I played, Lute was essential as a long-range attacker, sending out attacks and deflecting incoming projectiles. The demo’s final boss fight is a gauntlet of enemies and attacks that you need to interject button presses into your normal combat routine in order to survive. Certain enemy attacks that Lute can halt give you small opportunities to combo a series of attacks into. Soulstice doesn’t fully replicate dodging hundreds of projectiles as 2B in Nier, but it requires you to split your attention to what you’re attacking and what’s attacking you from afar in a similar way.
The game’s surprisingly large talent tree for Lute gives you a load of options to kit her out for an offensive or defensive role. I cracked open enough scattered barrels and crates in the wrecked castle level I played to upgrade how long Lute could stun enemies. Although the demo seems to be set early in the game, I could tell that having some sort of crowd control with all the enemies that show up will be crucial in its most difficult encounters.
Briar’s skills are more linear, presumably because her role in the combat is to lay down a series of combo attacks to multiple enemies at once or on one major enemy after Lute has already incapacitated them. Even in the short demo, I was able to puzzle out when to use the different sword and whip attacks. Briar wields two weapons at a time, which allows you to keep one around for weaker enemies and another for brutes that need more attention.
Soulstice has all these potentially compelling parts about it that could make it into the sort of enjoyable weekend game, like the sort I used to rent as a kid. It’s not extremely expensive looking and full of overbearing lore—although, whatever is going on with Briar transforming into a demon seems rad. It’s not interested in wasting your time with tons of background information or dialogue. You fight disgusting looking monsters in a gloomy castle with a big sword—there’s no need to elaborate.
The demo feels a little early though. While the combat is theoretically complex, it’s interrupted by delayed or outright ignored button inputs—or, outside of a bug, is not as tight as I expected it to be given the speed of the combat. This could be the sort of thing that’s smoothed out in a final release, but it’s essential to get right with a combat-focused game like this. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when certain attacks don’t register and your plan falls apart in a punishing battle. When it does work, the combat has the sort of depth that lets you quickly plan out the most efficient way to carve through a group of enemies. When it goes wrong not by the game’s doing but by an enemy catching you off-guard, it can be just as fun to find a way to get the upper hand again.
Everything else about Soulstice makes it easy to believe that a problem like that can be fixed. It’s a game that isn’t reaching for the sky, but is still able to nail most of what the best character action games do best. It’s extremely the type of game that people will compare to the big hitters in the genre, but one that clearly isn’t trying to one-up them. The best thing about Soulstice is that it’s honest about what it is and nothing more. I can respect that, and I’d love to play more.
Soulstice (opens in new tab) will be out on September 20.