Double the Love, Triple the Hearts.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Platformer
Developer: 13AM Games
Publisher: Graffiti Games
Release Date: Jan 10, 2019
In certain games, you can really tell that the developers really put love and time into their work from just playing. This usually translates well into the product because they care. You can just feel it from the humor, the characters, and the references. If anything, 13AM Games probably only put the concept and characters that they like in this game and then they worked out a plot that would loosely tie them together. Normally this would not fly but the tone and setting of the game make it all work. Double Cross is a product of great care and it shows.
General Overview and Story
Double Cross is a 2D action-adventure platforming game. The player assumes the role of Zahra, a female agent of an inter-dimensional police organization called R.I.F.T, who set herself out to stop suspect X who stole an object capable of destroying worlds for reasons unknown. In order to achieve this, Zahra will need to follow this evildoer’s traces on various alternate planets differing in both environments and backgrounds. She will also have to gather shreds of evidence and use her wits uncover the true identity of the culprit hiding under the guise of Zahra’s closest allies along with the co-conspirators.
While Zahra travels through one of the many stages in a Mega Man-esque manner, there will be enemies that have to be fought against ranging from minor grunts to bosses, and perhaps even her alternate self! Not a lot of combat options are available right off the bat, with the only tools being basic punch combo, dodge/roll, a launching uppercut, and some normal midair attacks. Zahra can also perform special moves by utilizing a different amount of energy bar resources obtained from beating up opposing parties. These special moves consist of HP recovery, area energy burst attack, and a heavy-hitting fireball projectile. More attacks and special abilities, powerful innate perks, can be naturally unlocked as Zahra levels up by collecting Upgradiums. Only up to three special abilities can be equipped at any checkpoint terminal to suit your playstyle. Some example of these beneficial add-ons are a rechargeable barrier that can block one attack, damage reduction, energy bar increase, etc..
Before delving into level design, let us first focus on how the stages are structured. There are three main worlds, with each world having 4 levels with the fourth one having to be unlocked. These worlds can only be accessed from the portal room in a hub area, RIFT’s headquarters. You can interact with other characters at your leisure, including presenting items to them or learn tidbits about their stories somewhat reminiscent of Mega Man Zero. The first three levels of each world are arranged by difficulty from easiest to hardest denoted by stars and can be played in any order. Completing a mission will yield a piece of evidence, and once the mystery behind them are solved for that specific world, the fourth level becomes accessible. Each world has its own theme and environment such as the slime-infested forest or a barren dinosaur world. Separate mission levels introduce gimmicks that fit either the aforementioned theme planet or mission context.
What I really like about the level design is that the three stages of each world have their own little twist in mechanics to keep the game fresh. Only the unlockable fourth levels are the culmination of these tricks combined together. This works extremely well in a game where the players can go through stages in any order they please, as the knowledge of whatever mechanics are not required beforehand if one chooses to go through them in a non-traditional order. Revisiting missions is not required but it’s encouraged as the aforementioned upgrades are usually placed in often optional platform challenges, alternate routes, or missable locations, which only adds replayability. Another point that I like is that the levels are designed to gradually introduce their self-contained gimmicks with ascending difficulty, instead of shoving them up your face like in certain games. I must say I appreciate that the developers have enough faith and confidence in the players to not have the navigators constantly halting the game to explain the obvious to the players, unlike Mega Man X5.
A tool that is often integral to traversing any areas is the Proton Slinger. This is the most important mechanic in Double Cross due to the fact that, frankly, you cannot complete the game without it, as many levels, fights, and puzzles are designed with this specific system in mind. Upon activation, two circles with different radii will appear around Zahra. The Proton Slinger has 2 major uses: to pull certain objects in so that Zahra can grab/throw them, and the ability to pull and propel yourself forward by aiming and shooting the slingshot at a node. Time will slow down when you are aiming with the Proton Slinger.
Aesthetics and Charm
In case you have not noticed from the screenshots or the videos by now, Double Cross is a fairly nice looking game. The majority, if not all art assets, are in 2D. You can really appreciate the characters and their sprites in high definition glory, especially when they are made up of all a cast of colorful and interesting characters. Speaking of characters, let me tell you that I just love the character designs and the misfit group of Zahra’s co-workers and acquaintances, the supporting cast. Examples include a sasquatch doctor by the name of Sam Squatch, the aged commander Valery Wiseheart who is quite literally a mermaid out of the water, and my favorite character Ada Lovepaws, the catgirl hacker with loves for cat-based puns who has the best facial expressions in the entire game! There are also minor details like references to games and movies, side stories for some characters as you progress, humor, and extraneous dialogues that, in addition to the already lovable art style, ramp up the charm of this title.
Polishing and improving.
I believe that Double Cross is just one step shy away from greatness. There are a few gripes I have with this game, but there’s only one that I feel like the game would benefit greatly if that was addressed. This issue is the responsiveness of overall controls. I have not done extensive testing, but I can feel slight inertia when controlling the character. This issue is basically non-prevalent in any situations except the platforming parts. It is especially noticeable when you are trying to maneuver yourself and attempting to land, or on a stage that requires a lot of air movement with Proton Slinger nodes. It is definitely not game-breaking, far from it. However, this makes controlling Zahra feel not as satisfying as controlling your character in games like Mega Man or Mario where precise control is usually a must-have. Other issues consist of more minor things that one could consider some of these to be borderline nitpicking but would still enhance the overall experience nevertheless like typos, animation timing, 45-degree intervals locked throwing angles and camera distance.
Double Cross is undoubtedly a good game. It features good level design, fun characters, and extra stories make this title all the more endearing. One can really tell that 13AM Games has fun with this game which is always a good sign. If not for the slightly less responsive control when compared to other platformers and some small polishing issues, I strongly believe that this game has the potential to go further beyond. This is an excellent game that oozes with love and filled with heart from its creator, and even though I dub it as “good”, it is at the highest echelon of that category with just micro centimeters away from being great. The year 2019 is definitely off to a good start.