Phantom Trigger tells the story of Stan. I think. And that’s kind of the problem.
Developer: Bread Team
Release date: 10 Aug, 2017
Drifter Light Hyper
It’s clear that the game was inspired by games like the sensational Hyper Light Drifter. With its gorgeous pixel visuals, decent melee, and it’s attempt at telling a story in a vague, unique way, Phantom Trigger wants to be the right parts of Hyper Light Drifter. Phantom Trigger plays like a top-down hack-n-slash RPG with combos and puzzles, and that’s not far too off from its inspirations.
Phantom Trigger tries to twist its story by presenting two, inter-connected worlds: The Outsider’s journey into an unfamiliar world, and Stan, a regular person whos is dealing with a brain disease and attempting to deal with it. There are ways that both stories tie together, but in no way did I ever felt like I understood the point, or the reasoning behind the connection. On top of that, the dialogue and actions used to tell the story are unfortunately weak, meaning that Phantom Trigger never tells a compelling narrative that keeps the game going. It’s just vague and confusing, and never really consistent in its presentation.
Stan is just not that compelling of a character. His sequences interrupt and literally occur during combat. Dying during combat after these sequences force you to play through his parts again in the middle of the fight. These sequences always came off as intrusive rather than thematically interesting and often break any sense of pacing the game has. Games like Hyper Light Drifter often interrupt the gameplay to show off it’s story, but it doesn’t literally interrupt it during combat, which is the one part of the game you’d like not to be interrupted during. These segments of the game, while do sound good on paper, only come off as an annoyance during gameplay. And that really sucks.
You’d also think it’s aesthetic would hold up as well, but unfortunately it’s presentation is disappointing, to say the least. It’s got good visuals and well-made art, but I found myself far from impressed with the character designs, animations, and it’s UI. In fact, the font for the game’s menu text is incredibly plain and simplistic, and meshes poorly with the style. It’s honestly as if they just used a modified default Unity font.
The Sword, Whip, and Fist
With presentation struck down, Phantom Trigger needs it’s gameplay to really step it up. And in some ways, it does! Not so much in others. To start off, you get (up to) 3 weapons to play with in the game: A Ice Sword, Whip, and Fire Gloves that you can combine in unique ways. Each of the weapons can be leveled up by simply attacking enemies/crystals with those weapons, and their unique colors of blue, green, and red (respectively) is used for puzzles and for letting the players know which attacks do certain enemies need to be defeated with. This is somewhat similar to DmC, but unlike that game you aren’t given a whole lot of room to work with making encounters where you could only use the sword or only the fist far from exiting.
Out of the three weapons, the most interesting is definitely the whip. The whip allows you to grab certain objects, slowing time down and letting you aim at enemies or in certain directions. It can also be used to pull in enemies and make combat satisfying enough. Although it’s not 100% consistent, grabbing enemies towards you and following up with some slashes is a cool change of pace from dashing in and out from enemy attacks. The whip can also be used to toss some projectiles and enemies towards others, and for pushing blocks towards pressure plates. Unfortunately with the other two, their limited amount of combos and versatility is less than exciting.
For the most part that’s pretty much it. In the worlds, you’ll find items to pick up for other people, areas that give you bonus XP for a particular weapon, segments where it interrupts to Stan, and Puzzles, but beyond all that the game is pretty much the same. While the combat is solid, it lacks enough ingenuity or satisfaction to last the game’s length. Leveling up to unlock combos comes at a steady rate but the combos don’t feel effective enough to truly be worth going out of your way to grind for. As far as I can tell, your whip and sword are already enough to easily dispatch foes.
There’s also co-op, which is pretty cool. Sharing life bars, however, seems annoying and makes co-op less fun to play when the deaths will most likely be either your or their fault. But besides that, playing with friends is always a neat feature, and paired with the Switch, makes it a surprisingly alright co-op experience.
I’m playing the game on Nintendo Switch, and unfortunately, the game’s got some weird issues. For one, the game doesn’t maintain 60fps and drops constantly. Compared to footage of the PC version the animations appear to be slower to a degree, and going through checkpoints drops the framerate in a distracting way. It’s not unplayable, but it’s disappointing..
On top of that, the game at launch is fairly buggy and unintuitive in a lot of ways. My save files would be completely ruined due to the game sparing me outside the map, and the UI came off as incredibly slow to me. Also, using the B button as select in menus seems kinda jarring, and while I get that it was designed with a single joycon in mind they could had still changed it for handheld mode. Oh well.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much it. Phantom Trigger doesn’t succeed in it’s attempt to juggle two narratives as one, and it doesn’t succeed in it’s attempt at capturing what made games like it’s counterparts powerful and engaging. I never really got into Hyper Light Drifter, but my experience of that game was one of understanding, one where I understood the point of the game, and saw it’s consistency in design. Phantom Trigger never delivered it’s experience in a manner that made me see through it’s cracks as something special.
It’s tough to come and say that I think Phantom Trigger is one of the few weak experiences I’ve had this year. Its initial premise and its fun combat at the beginning of the gameplay can’t bear the weight of its weak story, lengthy nature, and disappointing aesthetics. Co-op is still pretty nice and was the most enjoyable feature. However, the game is just too far apart from the other games it takes its inspiration from.