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[Review] Astral Chain – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Platinum Games
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: 02/09/2019
  • Price: $59.99 / £49.99
  • Review code provided by Nintendo

Intro

Platinum Games bring their incomparable weirdness to the Switch, and in doing so have created one of the best games of 2019. World-renowned third-person action developers Platinum Games are back with a bang. Astral Chain is weird, wonderful, and unlike anything the team has put together before.

In the year 2078, humanity has retreated to a single city known as The Ark. That’s about where Astral Chain’s story-line heads off the rails. This is a good thing. For all of the post-apocalyptic fiction in video games and every other medium, it’s rare something deviates so much from what has become the accepted norm. There are no mutants in the Ark, no irradiated zombies, no cannibals. Enemies instead are demonic “Chimeras” from the Astral Plane, abducting humans and turning them into monstrous hybrids. In an effort to fight back, mankind has developed a new weapon which harnesses the power of the Chimera as a “Legion”, a creature tethered to officers of the Neuron department of the Ark’s Police force.

No Chain, No Pain

Your equipped Legion attacks automatically when near enemies, while players only have one attack button which can be complimented with thrown explosives. While this may sound simplistic, scratch beneath the surface and there are plenty of tools you can use to lay waste to hordes of Chimera. For example, you can move your Legion independently using ZL and the right stick and encircling enemies allows you to chain them to the floor for numerous free hits. You can also use your Legion as an “anchor” of sorts, allowing you to spring into and out of conflict. This is useful, because your standard-issue truncheon doubles as a handgun. Combine that with slow-motion initiated by a perfectly-timed dodge, and combat begins to feel more fleshed out, leaning on sensational animations and an incredibly consistent frame rate.

Where things can be mixed up is in the switching from one Legion to another. Of the five you’ll wield, each has clear strengths. The Sword Legion is a deadly combatant up close, but some puzzles and obstacles will require the Arrow Legion’s range and power. All of this power comes at a cost, of course. If a Legion is in action too long, it’ll need to be recalled for some time, and the longer you leave it in action the longer that recharge time will be. Thankfully, Legions can be upgraded, meaning they can eventually cause huge damage shock waves when they self-destruct, or gain improved evasive manoeuvres. These abilities plug into a small number of slots that each Legion has, meaning you’ll have to make some tough choices between upgrades.

Off the Chain

Outside of combat, there’s plenty to do in Astral Chain. The Ark isn’t an open-world, but there are plenty of areas which are more open to exploration. In fact, it’s the only way to earn materials for some of the game’s upgraded gear. Between battling demons and transcending dimensions, your mute protagonist will carry out odd jobs for the city’s inhabitants, from carrying cargo to stuffing your face with comically proportioned food. These quests are identified by the player’s IRIS scanner, which also adds to Astral Chain’s surprisingly deep lore and world-building. If that sounds unusual, then consider that this is Platinum’s strangest game.

Your Police department has its own mascot with his tongue sticking out, the game’s collectibles are toilet paper that you turn into a toilet fairy, and the soundtrack sounds like a metal band stumbled into a DJ set and decided not to leave. It’s barmy, and it’s bloody brilliant. Aside from the fifteen-or-so hour campaign, Astral Chain can be played in co-op with split Joy-con controllers. In this setup, one player acts as the protagonist, while another plays as the Legion. Unfortunately, it feels thrown together and poorly planned out, since character controls are still defined by one player.

Final Wrap

Astral Chain is somehow irrepressibly “Platinum”, despite its combat system feeling a little anemic in terms of complexity when compared to the developer’s former works. The symbiotic relationship between human and Legion feels like the game in microcosm – one half is simple, the other is bonkers. Thankfully, the whole is well worth sinking some time into. Head to the Ark, it’s lovely at this time of year.

Pros

  • Fun Chaotic Story
  • Great Character and Monster Designs
  • An Audio/Visual Feast

Cons

  • Combat May Not Be As Deep As Some Would Like

Verdict
Astral Chain’s neon cityscape and whimsical inhabitants more than make up for its good, if not excellent, combat
5/5

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