Game designers try to find a balance between the Player’s head and hands. Some games, like turn-based strategy, are focused entirely on making the Player think. Others, like bullet hell shooters, test their reflexes. Fractured Soul puts players in command of a character who runs and shoots like in an action game, but it also forces them to think about every step they take, like in a physics puzzler. This high-speed puzzling is possible because that character is fighting in two realities simultaneously!
Taking advantage of the 3DS’s two screens, Fractured Soul displays one reality on the top screen and the second reality on the bottom. The character occupies the same spot on each screen, but each reality is slightly different. Both might have an identical corridor, but one could have a closed door while the other path is clear. Players need to make their way through these levels by constantly switching from one reality to the next in order to avoid obstacles and fight bad guys along the way.
Fractured Soul controls like most other 2D sidescrolling action/platformers. Players control a humanoid soldier who can shoot, jump and climb like in Metroid. However, tapping either shoulder button on the 3DS will cause the character to quickly shift realities. This lets players use the switching power without needing to take their thumbs off the jump button or D-Pad.
As players progress, the differences between each reality begin to grow more pronounced. Enemies will appear to fight the Player on one screen, requiring players to shift dimensions in order to dodge attacks. Environmental hazards like electrified floors appear in one reality, forcing players to shift to the other at the right moment. Many levels involve jumping puzzles where players must switch reality in mid leap.
Switching from screen to screen has to be done with lightning-fast reflexes, and a cool head. Players must navigate the levels quickly, often pursued by a wall of death, and the real trick is not panicking. Players gain bonuses for completing a stage quickly, so even when imminent death isn’t a factor, they are still motivated to move fast in order to unlock bonus levels.
The designers at Endgame Studios know that the mechanic of switching between screens might feel like a gimmick after a while, so they shake things up every few levels. Eventually players will end up universes with different gravity where the characters can jump higher on one screen, or are constantly blown in one direction. These changes to gameplay keep the idea fresh and force gamers to constantly puzzle out how to use the differences between realities to reach their goal.
There are also levels where players control a spaceship like a “Bullet Hell” space shooter. These also require players to switch between realities, and they add in an even greater dose of variety plus more frantic action.
Many players will be content to simply make their way through the main story and enjoy this adventure on a superficial level. However Fractured Soul is filled with bonuses for speedrunners and hardcore players. There are hidden collectibles that help unlock the bonus levels, and these extra levels pose an extreme challenge even for experienced players.
Fractured Soul is among the better titles in the 3DS eShop, and a great find for hardcore platform fans. While it launched as an exclusive for the 3DS and seems uniquely suited for that platform, there is a PC version on its way this Spring. Explosion will be back with more on the PC port as it approaches launch.