It’s safe to say the Switch is on a complete roll at the minute. Indie games are coming out at a rate of knots and one of the latest is Phantom Trigger, Tiny Build’s second published game after Mr. Shifty. The two games are not dissimilar, either. Phantom Trigger is a hack n slash beat ‘em up that oozes style, with its dark and brooding mysterious atmosphere and its all out action.
The story isn’t the most simple to explain, indeed it’s incredibly ambiguous as it unfolds via flashbacks between a man and his wife where the husband is suffering a medical condition that is linked to the world in which the game plays out. You control the Outsider as they travel around a weird, unfriendly world destroying demons and uncovering the story step by step. I enjoyed the way the story unfolded bit by bit, although it did feel a little pretentious at times. I guess it’s a fine line when it comes to this kind of story development so I appreciate them trying.
The controls are incredibly simple. You walk around the five worlds hacking and slashing at the huge number of deformed monsters that stand in your way. From the beginning of the game you quickly pick up your three main forms of defence. The first is the blade which is quick but weak, then the whips which brings enemies closer to you and can interact with environmental things, finally there’s the fists which are stronger but slower. Something I find a very interesting mechanic is levelling up your attacks individually. Killing enemies with an attack will gain experience for that attack, levelling them up time and time again will unlock combos. Each combo is only three inputs long, so they’re all very easy to do and pull off consistently. The final thing you can do is teleport a few metres in front of you, in the style of Mr. Shifty. This is used to quickly escape enemies and jump across gaps and hazards.
There isn’t a huge variety of enemies. You’ll keep fighting the same ones over and over again. Each world will introduce a few new types of enemies, but half of them are just slight adaptations of current enemies. I will say that while there isn’t a huge amount of them, the ones that are here really do have to be dealt with in different ways. Having to adjust your tactics on the fly for individual enemies kind of eliminates the problem I guess.
One of the things that stood out almost immediately is that at no point does the game hold your hand. There are literally no tutorials as far as I’m aware, you need to work out all of the mechanics yourself. This is mostly a positive as it’s nice working everything with your own brain, but at times there are also places, especially boss battles where it’s “what on Earth am I supposed to do?” In fact the clue for the third boss is downright misleading. I spent half an hour following what I thought the hint was, whereas it turns out I was supposed to do the exact opposite.
The main problem I had with the lack of explaining was when it came to the endings. Phantom Trigger boasts four different endings and after I received the rather unsatisfactory “crap” ending, I have literally no idea what I did to earn it, since I thought I did plenty of good, optional things. Worst of all I don’t know what I can do to see the other endings, something I would have liked to do.
I’ve mentioned the visual style which is very unique. It’s sort of faded neon, if that makes any sense. Colours play an important part in the gameplay too. The distinct attacks have their own colour, blue, green and red respectively which are required to interact with things of the corresponding colour. This includes solving basic puzzles as well as times when enemies switch between different colours, only taking damage from that coloured attack.
I was also a big fan of the sound design. While the short amount of tracks are awesomely atmospheric electronic music, it was the sound effects that really got me. Attacking with your weapons feels heavy thanks to the sound each of them make. A combo of three makes the whole thing kind of musical in a way, like the game has some sort of rhythm to it.
Phantom Trigger can pack quite a challenge, when all the variety of enemies gang up against you in small enclosed spaces it’s difficult to take them all out while avoiding their unique attacks. The long distance shooters and bouncy things especially became quite a nuisance, leading to my death the most by far. Oddly, the game is defaulted to hard mode which is not something I recommend for first timers.
While there are only five levels, they are quite huge, providing you with a game of decent length. While I didn’t ever get lost in levels, I still wish there was a map available. I was often second guessing myself and wary about with path to take so a map would have been useful. I did enjoy the boss battles too which are often a war of attrition, well, except the aforementioned third boss which was confusing and lame.
As far as extra little things, at any time in the menu you can turn on co-op mode which is exactly as it sounds. Because the controls are quite simple you can easily play this with just a single Joy Con, making multiplayer effortless. The only issue with this is that you share the same health bar, oddly. Also, after completing the game you gain access to Arena mode.
Overall, I think Phantom Trigger is a pretty excellent game from my perspective. I enjoyed the hack n slash even if it did become slightly repetitive later on, the visual style is excellent and I appreciate the attempt at story telling from two different but connected worlds. It may be difficult for some and I wish it showed what I did to deserve the ending, but it’s still a pretty fine game that I can recommend.
Game provided by Tiny Build.