REVIEW: ‘Young Souls’ Breathes Life To The Beat ‘Em Up Genre

What do you get when you combine classic 2D beat ’em up gameplay with RPG elements and bubblegum animation? You get Young Souls.

The world of video gaming is more expansive than ever. Where players were once limited to what was accessible at an arcade, they are now able to experience a vast array of styles and mechanics. However, an unfortunate side effect of this gaming revolution has been a loss of exposure for the genres that started it all. While they may not be as graphically impressive as AAA studio projects or as multiplayer-friendly as the ever-popular online battle royale, side-scrolling brawlers still just as fun as they were decades ago. Attempting to prove this is The Arcade Crew’s Young Souls, a 2D beat ’em up that exemplifies how entertaining the basics can still be.

Of course, Young Souls isn’t just a brawler. It’s also a surprisingly immersive, story-rich RPG, that’s sure to pull its audience in quickly. The beauty of the game lies in the way it mixes the two concepts, resulting in a relatively simplistic combat system that feels complex. Most of the action, which sees two adventurous teenagers doing sword-and-sorcery battles against hordes of goblins and darkly magical creatures, is fairly standard. Players can perform regular sword attacks, heavy sword attacks, and block with their shields. This feels a bit repetitive at first, and knowledge gained from the initial tutorial will only get a player so far before bigger baddies and more powerful adversaries start to test their patience. Luckily, progressing through the story unlocks new abilities and purchasable upgrades that slowly begin to diversify gameplay. Eventually, useful tips and tricks like parrying and a well-placed rolling dodge will allow the player to do more and get further in accomplishing their tasks. They’ll just have to do a better job than myself at remembering which buttons do what.

Including RPG elements in the progression system is a really charming way of keeping the player invested and varying the game’s overall experience. Between dungeon raids and evil library romps, the two protagonists can make their way towards town via countryside cruises on their moped. Once there, they have the ability to enter several buildings and locations, most of which serve a purpose in developing the characters and their stat lines. For example, among the many institutions is a shoe store at which co-lead Tristan likes to shop. Disguised in-story as a means for the lad to up his style, selecting a new pair of kicks to buy is actually important for getting past some of the game’s harder spots. Each shoe comes with a different ability perk, giving gamers a chance to both show out and show up when things get heated. Most of the establishments in the titular character’s hometown serve a similar purpose, such as the pawnshop where you can trade items you’ve collected for cash to continue upgrading as you please.

Another great aspect of gameplay comes from having two playable characters, each with their own set of health, strengths, and weaknesses. Both Tristan and Jenn start the game with the same base information but can be modified and enhanced by the player separately at various stages of the game. Notably, the gym in town can be used to touch up different stats, like strength or stamina, by way of a button-mashing mini-game. It’s possible to make one character offensively heavy, increasing their strength, and the other defensively heavy, increasing durability, and alternate between the two in battle as necessary. This adds a certain amount of strategic, RPG-based play that helps to further transform Young Souls from a basic side-scroller to an encompassing gaming experience.

Gameplay aside, Young Souls features an original story that is unexpectedly captivating. Pitched against a backdrop of strikingly bubblegum animation, it tells the tale of the two aforementioned leads as they set out to quell the conflict between a hidden fantasy world and their own. Along the way, they must also save their eccentric adoptive father and aid innocents, both human and non-human, who also find themselves caught between universes. The dialogue is quick-witted and often humorous, with a cast of characters who are relatively down-to-earth, whether Earth is the location of their origin or not. Conversations can be interactive, as well, with prompts occasionally appearing for the player to select responses and stay engaged. Though enjoyable in its own right, the sometimes cynical comedy fodder is also brilliantly juxtaposed by a truly heartfelt story. It almost feels like a 1980s Jim Henson movie brought to life on a PC instead of a movie screen. It’s probably not worth spoiling anything here, but Young Souls is worth playing for the story alone. It’s one of those rare finds that’s just as fun to watch play out as it is to actually play.

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