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  • Writer's pictureAllan Jenks

Game Review #477: Soul Axiom Rebooted (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John Rogers

Developer: Wales Interactive

Publisher: Wales Interactive

Category: Adventure, Puzzle

Release Date: 2.27.2020

Price: $12.99


Buy Soul Axiom Rebooted from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Rebooting the Void

The 3-D sci-fi puzzle game space is a crowded one. That’s not a bad thing. There’s nothing quite like getting lost in a new world of futuristic escapism that teases your mind as much as your twitch-reflexes. It’s a genre studded with classics, from the foreboding 1986 relic The Sentinel, to the 3-D action-puzzler iterations of Metroid, to the genre-defining Portal and its astonishing sequel, to cerebral cult hit The Witness. Soul Axiom is an intriguing newcomer that first appeared in 2016 via Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U. Possibly due to the somewhat stunted audience of the Wii U, it has now been “Rebooted” for Switch—that is, rereleased with some extra content, visual upgrades, and quality of life tweaks such an improved checkpoint system.

The game begins with the player falling through space, his life flashing before his eyes before he wakes up on the deck of a strange galleon sailing through a purple void. Thrown in at the deep end, this opening scene is pleasingly discomfiting. We explore the ship’s deck and hold, operating a machine to release a digital sail. We receive some kind of superpower-imbuing electric shock in the process—the first of the special abilities that form the basis of the puzzle-solving gameplay. However, just when it’s all going so well, a strange and somewhat terrifying dark angel creature swoops aboard the ship, tearing off a component and sending it plummeting down into the void.

And so, a particularly surreal adventure begins. The next levels take place across a confusing but fascinating mishmash of scenes and locations. From the wreckage of the ship, we find ourselves at a weird roadside saloon bar in an unreal-seeming desert. Digital figures flicker and vanish on the edge of vision like glitches in The Matrix. We ascend an onyx-black computer-generated hill, and pass through palatial virtual spaces, using our newly attained powers to make pixelated bridges appear out of thin air and to wind objects back and forth in time. The initial lack of narrative direction is offset, for a while, by this curious setting, and some basic-but-satisfying puzzle solving.

Spoiler Alert?

The first plot payoff—which comes in the first hour of this 30-hour game—could be considered a slight spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you want to go in blind. After a series of puzzles, we soon find ourselves riding a monorail, with a voiceover welcoming us into our digital afterlife in Elysia. It arrives at the game’s hub world, which has striking architecture reminiscent of a futuristic airport. However, any idea of getting back on track is quickly extinguished, as this giant hard drive of souls seems to be having a partition failure, and is haunted by scary digital shades. It’s like a broken theme park made of memories. The first handful of levels simulate jungle, wartime, island, and museum environments, littered with objects and cut scenes that hint at whose memory you are in.

Is That a Bug or a Feature?

As interesting as all this may sound, however, the game is wracked with problems. To start with, the visuals are a real mixed bag. On one hand, the aesthetic is excellent: the world around you often has a spectral VR quality, with bright neon digital distortion flashing across the screen giving everything an eerie, unreal feel.

But there’s a lot left to be desired. The textures and effects are startlingly bad, hovering somewhere between N64- and GameCube-era graphics. In some places, this has practical gameplay ramifications, such as an area where the floor is so dark that you can’t tell where it ends, leading to frustrating falls back to ground level. There are pointless dead ends that discourage exploration, and sticky walls that you’ll get trapped against. You’ll spend plenty of time wandering around, retreading a puzzle environment that hasn’t sufficiently telegraphed the way forward.

In addition to these design flaws, the technical performance of this port is bad enough to become problematic. It runs at 900p docked, reducing the clean lines and bright colours to an unplayably-blurry fog on a 4K TV. Even running in handheld mode at 720p, there are distracting frame rate drops. The frequent loading screens can stretch to 10 or 15 seconds, and even the loading animation suffers judder and slowdown. Some puzzles seem to be designed for a mouse—controlling an imprecise, over-sensitive floating hand with a Joy-Con to push a sequence of small on-screen buttons is an infuriating activity; you’ll intuitively try to tap the Switch’s touchscreen, to no avail. All in all, it feels more like a janky port than the promised upgrade and “reboot.”

Wrapping Up

This ever-mounting pile of technical and gameplay issues overwhelms the more promising aspects, making the game hard to recommend to the average player. If you’re a die-hard lover of all the games mentioned in the intro—and you have your expectations in check—you could have fun playing Soul Axiom Rebooted, but for someone looking to dip a toe into the rich waters of the sci-fi puzzle genre, navigating the afterlife portrayed here could feel more like purgatory than heaven.

Score: 6/10

Buy Soul Axiom Rebooted from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

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