Game: Phantom Trigger developed by tinyBuild and Bread Team (Official Site) | (Steam Store Page)
Genre: Action Arcade (“Hardcore Neon Slasher”)
Average Play-through: 5-6 hours
Number of Players: 1-2 (Couch Co-Op)
Ranking: Good (almost great) (Check Official Random Art Attack Ranking)
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the game to review.
Would I Recommend Phantom Trigger:
Yes, but not without reservation. I enjoyed Phantom Trigger. It isn’t without its shortcomings, but it is a very polished and fun game. It took me around 5 hours to beat it on the hardest difficulty, but I didn’t feel like that was a bad thing. I actually quite enjoyed the tightness of the gameplay and felt that the developers went the direction of short and fun, rather than long and tedious. You can play through it again for different endings and the like, but the initial experience is quite short.
The first three hours of the game are by far the best. Enemies are introduced at a great pace, you acquire new and interesting skills, the story is engaging, combat is phenomenal, the NPCs are unique and varied, and you are faced with interesting biomes and puzzles. On top of all of this, the music and sound design are superb, and the art is beautiful. Phantom Trigger is a work of art in so many ways.
So where do my reservation lie? My reservations lie with the end game. I maxed out all of my weapons with two hours of game left and met most if not all the enemy types by this point. So for the last jaunt of my playthrough, I wasn’t experiencing anything really new or novel and my enjoyment started to wear thin. It got to the point that during the last level I would simply dash past all of the enemies, knowing full well they couldn’t do anything to me, and only fought when forced.
So even with these shortcomings, the first three hours were so good and so original that I can’t help but recommend this game.
What is Phantom Trigger:
Phantom Trigger’s developers refer to is as a “Hardcore Neon Slasher with RPG and Roguelike elements”. I am going to be quite honest with you all, I have no idea what that sentence even means. I think words matter, and when we go throwing around a plethora of adjectives, those adjectives loose meaning. I do believe it was a difficult game, hence the “hardcore” descriptor. But I never thought of it as an RPG or Roguelike. RPG means role playing gaming. Phantom Trigger has rich story elements, a few choices here and there and some level progression but never once did I feel like I could pick a role and play it. Also, I honestly have no idea where they got the “roguelike” idea from. There was nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing in this game that reminded me of any roguelikes.
I believe Phantom Trigger is more aptly labeled as an action arcade game.
Bread Team, the developers of Phantom Trigger, go on to say the following about the game.
1) It has a “deep combat system focused on unlocking combos and upgrading weapons”
2) “Handcrafted story driven levels mixed with roguelike-style dungeons”
3) A branching story with multiple endings
Let’s take a minute to look at each of these claims.
1) Deep combat system focused on unlocking combos and upgrading weapons
I agree whole heartedly with this. One of Phantom Trigger’s many strengths is its great combat system. You have three different weapons all with different functionality and purpose. Each weapon is so useful that I never found myself once favoring one over the other.
First, there is the whip. It is a long range, a non-damaging weapon that pulls enemies closer towards you. You can also use it to activate special objects found around the level that deals massive damage to enemies. It is a fluid and fun weapon to use, unlike anything I have played before. Nothing was more satisfying than pulling an enemy into a spike trap or over a fire wall. It gave a lot of depth to the game.
The second weapon is the ice sword, a short distance very swift weapon. It didn’t deal a lot of damage, but you are able to weave in and out of battle with it.
The last weapon is the fire gauntlets, they allow you to punch slowly for massive damage. Upon the third strike, you deal a massive blow that sends most enemies flying prone.
Each of these weapons is able to be leveled up the more you use them and as you level, instead of gaining more damage, you unlock new combos. These combos were a riot to use. You can mix and match different attacks to yield paths of fire and ice, gravity bombs that would pull enemies in just to launch them out, or fun auras of fire and frost.
Along with these weapons, you have a dash that lets you get into position or out of dangerous spots. The dash, though not technically a weapon, felt like an unofficial fourth weapon as sorts because you find yourself using it for both offensive and defensive purposes. It can also be worked into combos to get some really interesting effects.
The combat really is very deep, and enjoyable.
2) Handcrafted story driven levels mixed with roguelike-style dungeons
I think the story is good, it is presented well and is unique. I do not feel like there were any roguelike-style dungeons though. I am honestly curious what the developers think this means.
3) A branching story with multiple endings
Within my playthrough, I tried to pick the best options presented to me at every turn. I had no idea what my choices were doing, or how they were affecting the game. Indeed, many times I felt that my choices had no impact whatsoever. Then I got, what had to be, the worst ending possible. I will avoid spoilers, but I literally got one line from an important character and then it ended. I must have chosen poorly, but I had no indication as to whether or not I was making bad choices until the very end.
So yes, Phantom Trigger has a branching story with multiple endings, the problem lies within whether or not you can make informed decisions to help sculpt that story.
Phantom Trigger is a good game that has a novel story, one of the most fun combat mechanics I have encountered in a game, interesting enemy and character design, engaging level design and brilliant art and music. This game would be strongly recommended if it were not for the drought of new enemies and skills late game.
Lessons To Be Learned – Combat:
Phantom Trigger’s combat is stellar. So what exactly makes it so good? Well, it isn’t just one thing, but rather a lot of small design choices that work together.
1) Utility- You can do a lot of different things with just a few skills. The limitation really is only your skill level, and creativity. When I think of other games that have done something similar, I think of games like Rocket League (you heard me right) and Dark Souls. In Rocket League you really only have a few different moves, but they can be combined in a variety of creative ways to produce some truly interesting results, same with Phantom Trigger. Same with Dark Souls, you really don’t have a lot of skills, but the ones you do and be practiced and honed to be able to pull off some amazing feats.
So the first lesson I glean from Phantom Trigger is this, give your skills utility. Each and every skill is useful and fun. When mixed in different situations they become even more interesting and fun.
2) Uniqueness- Every weapon and skill in Phantom Trigger are unique. It isn’t just a numbers game, with one weapon doing more or less damage, but rather each weapon and skill change how you play because they are unique. They didn’t put in 500 weapons that were just slightly different from one another, rather they put in 3 tightly honed weapons that felt great.
3) Progress- As you used a weapon more and more it would level up and you would unlock new skills. This was a great system in that it allows you to master one skill before giving you another. By the time I unlocked all the skills I felt like a master that could seamlessly switch between the different skills, yielding a sense of accomplishment and pride. It is fun to grow and unlock new things, especially when the growth is something more than just a damage increase or increased rate of attack.
4) Tight Controls- As you dive in and out of combat, the weapons and skills just work. You know what to expect and can come to rely on the controls behaving the way you want them too. Tight controls lead to a heightened sense of enjoyment.
Lessons To Be Learned – Enemey Design:
Each enemy in Phantom Trigger felt engaging and fun to fight. Let’s look at what made the enemies so good.
1) Scalability- The enemies are strong throughout the whole game, they only became easy because the player becomes more skilled. I love this and wish more games would implement this kind of design. Stat increases are okay, but only if they are incremental and don’t completely overshadow skill. Phantom Trigger gives no state increases, and it makes the enemies feel fresh for longer.
2) Threatening- All enemies are dangerous. Even the lowliest of foes can kill you at any given moment. Is this starting to sound a lot like Dark Souls? Well if it is, it is because this is good design. I want to feel like an enemy can destroy me if I let my guard down. Now in later levels, there wasn’t really an incentive to fight every monster, so that became an issue; but when I had to fight it was engaging.
3) Unique- Same concept as above, novel monsters lead to interesting gameplay.
Lessons To Be Learned – Art and Music
The art and music in Phantom Trigger are great. But why? Because they are tight, consistent and good. For sake of brevity, let’s just say art and music matter. Animations are smooth, music is stirring, sound effects add to gameplay.
There are more things we could talk about, but let’s look at one or two of the game’s failings.
Lessons To Be Learned- End Game
The more I play the better I can pinpoint when a game stops being fun, and it is when new content stops being introduced. There is a point in Phantom Trigger where both new enemies and new abilities stop being introduced, and it is at this point that the game starts to become mundane. If you are not adding something new, close your game. Don’t think just because you mix old enemies in different combinations that it is going to be fun, it gets old fast.
Lessons To Be Learned – Choice
Choices in games are only meaningful if the player can perceive to so degree how their choices are going to affect the game. If I am presented with choices but no clear understanding of the consequences, the choices feel hollow.
The unique combat system, engaging enemies, good story, awesome art, and music went a long way of making a favorable impression in one’s mind. There were some shortcomings, but they were not game breaking. Rather they merely prevented a good game from being a great game.