Right off the bat, I got a sense of déjà vu when playing Phantom Trigger. Top down view with beat ’em up elements? Teleporting several feet away with a press of a button? This game has a number of parallels to TinyBuild’s other Nintendo Switch outing, Mr. Shifty. At the same time, it’s pretty different from that title. I was optimistic to see how Phantom Trigger holds up, especially after noticing that the PC version was given a glowing review by a fellow TICGN writer. That said…I did not like it that much.
Right off the bat, I can safely say the story is the best thing about Phantom Trigger. Despite the game being full of action-packed scenarios, the story focuses on a man dealing with an internal issue that prompts him to go to the hospital and seek help. What makes this work is how that gets somewhat interwoven with the otherworldly portion of the plot, where it’s otherwise the usual “Go kill these bad guys” premise; as you play through the adventure, you uncover bits and pieces of the everyman’s side of the story. There are even characters within the adventuring portion that could help influence the overall outcome of the entire ordeal the poor guy’s facing.
This game has its fair share of visual flair, yet it also feels sort of lacking. It’s certainly fluid. The pixel art itself is very detailed and the characters are as animated as they could be. There’s something I find unappealing about the uses of color in Phantom Trigger, though. There are a lot of blues, reds, and purples in the mix, but their implementation into Phantom Trigger‘s pixel art style doesn’t feel atmospheric. Rather, it feels uninspired. I always felt relieved to see the story cutscenes as a result, because I got to see much more color being used; just looking at the background of the therapist scene is more visually appealing than the mishmash of shades of very few dark colors being thoroughly utilized otherwise. Also, why is the font for menus so generic? It feels like a placeholder font.
The music mainly consists of atmospheric ambiance. They do fine as such, but the pieces aren’t anything memorable or catchy. It almost made me wonder why the game recommended that I wear headphones; I mean, this isn’t a music game, and there are plenty of other titles I can think of with better soundtracks. I get that the OST and the visuals build up as the game progresses, but I feel like the way it was done just didn’t work in their favor. It’s not like the sound effects provide audible cues best captured through the use of headphones, either. They’re the usual hack ‘n slash affair, not unlike Mr. Shifty‘s own punching sounds.
Phantom Trigger is a top-down hack ‘n slash title. There are a few weapons players can use to beat the crap out of enemies with, and each one has differing stats from one another. The attacks can be leveled up, apparently, but I can never really feel it actually taking effect. It is otherwise enjoyable to run around the terrain and attack enemies. Movement is fluid, and the attacks can be kind of fun to pull off.
The problem, however, is the repetition. This game just does not evolve from its basic foundation. You hit enemies over and over again, move around for a little bit, then hit enemies over and over after that. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if there was any variety in the terrain or the enemies, but that’s not the case here. Mr. Shifty did this better by having the enemies take only one or two hits to kill, and the map design provided elements of strategy for maneuvers. The only breakout aspect of Phantom Trigger is the use of unique boss patterns, which, while refreshing and interesting, don’t excuse the loads of mindless trekking that lead up to each one.
In fact, I’m going to bring up another game that does a lot of the same things Phantom Trigger does: Kamiko. Both games are top-down hack ‘n slashers that have bosses at the end of each world. However, Kamiko has colorful visual appeal, a faster pace (enemies die quickly and satisfyingly), a memorable soundtrack, and enemy variety — therefore, challenge. Kamiko even takes advantage of the map design by having mini objectives that, if accomplished, unlock more areas of the world before finally getting to fight the world’s boss. This cheap game generally has more to offer to players than the more expensive Phantom Trigger.
The reason why it took so long for me to get this review out is because Phantom Trigger, while not a bad game per se, didn’t engage me after my first play session with it. I rather wanted to play titles on the Switch that had more life and incentive to them. With Phantom Trigger, I was on the way to having fun until it decided not to do anything more with what’s on display. A half-baked game may as well get a half-baked grade.