Jan 28, 2014
Soul Fjord, from Kim Swift’s Airtight Games, her being known for helping design Portal, has been anticipated on the Ouya as one of its exclusives that could help justify the platform. After all, Towerfall remained the best reason to have an Ouya for all these months. Soul Fjord comes to the plate with a concept that’s almost too cool: a beat ’em up with roguelike elements with rhythm-based combat that’s set in a hybrid blaxploitation and Norse mythology universe. It just doesn’t quite live up to it.
Soul Fjord has players controlling Magnus Jones, a righteous dude who dies, goes to Valhalla to party in the afterlife, but gets rejected by a no-good doorman. So, he has to fight his way back up Yggdrasil to get into Valhalla by force. It won’t be easy, as every time he fails, he returns to the beginning of his quest with no gold, and only the items that were bound to his soul.
The combat is a combo-based hack ‘n slash system: there’s two attack buttons and a block button that can be timed to enemy attacks or used to dodge. There’s also a rhythm bar below Magnus on screen, and players must time their attacks and blocks to this rhythm bar to do maximum damage, with critical attacks and enemy stuns possible by timing to this meter.
The key problem with Soul Fjord to a great degree is that mixture of the rhythm and beat ’em up elements. When facing an enemy one-on-one, the rhythm parts work great, as there’s a great flow to the combat. When fighting groups of enemies, or ones that move around a lot, that’s where the combat breaks down and stops being much fun. Keeping track of not just the rhythm meter, but also who’s attacking and from where is just tricky. As well, the items, which provide helpful boosts, can be tricky to discern their effect from just the icon alone.
The controls could use some remapping – having the top Y button serve as the critical attack button can throw one off, because it’s such an extended stretch of the thumb that it throws off my rhythm, at least. If it was set to B, it would work better. Having to switch items with the d-pad and trigger with the shoulder buttons just feels odd. A game so focused on rhythm should be consciously avoiding breaking the player’s mental rhythm.
Soul Fjord is free-to-play, and surprisingly – if not exceedingly – fair in doing so. A coin doubler can be had at launch for 20 records, the game’s hard currency, and that’s a $1.99 IAP to get enough, or even just playing a bit in the game to collect them. Records being attainable through actual play feels good. As well, the chests which contain special items are a good bargain, as they usually contain very good items and they will remain upon death if equipped – normally, this costs 5 records, and the chests are usually 7. The one thing the game’s lacking that would both improve player satisfaction and monetization would be a revive feature: I know I would spend some records to continue some of my runs.
Soul Fjord dreams big, with its groovy theme and unique idea mixture, it just doesn’t quite pay off. It’s a free download for Ouya owners, and is worth at least that, but it may prove to be more frustrating than groovy.