Having helped many an indie developer reach a broader audience, Canadian publisher Graffiti Games has an impressively diverse catalogue of titles, with last year’s Blue Fire being particularly well-received on Switch. Restless Soul, from developer Fuz Games, is a visual blend of Tamagotchi-style sprites in a Kindle Paperwhite world: austere, entirely greyscale, and extremely minimalist. It's a game that actually works better in handheld than it does on a larger display.
Functioning as a stripped-back action-RPG, there are some seek-and-collect objects to pursue should you feel so inclined, but not a sniff of a hit-point or any of the other bumph usually associated with the genre. Spread over eight worlds and accompanying towns, you can freely backtrack by way of teleportation. The plot focuses on you, a spirit, in your quest to return from the underworld to the land of the living.
A simple premise well-married to its uncomplicated black and white rendering, its nether-world is cutely populated by towns, dungeons, ponds, and post boxes. Navigation is aided by your mobile phone, providing maps and achievement records that encourage you to leave no stone unturned. Where Restless Soul is most unique is in its boldly advertised ‘bullet hell’ battles, a moniker created and mostly reserved for a particularly manic strain of shoot 'em up. Here, the experience is fairly watered down. Your sprite is commanded by a twin-stick move and shoot setup, and a dash that allows you to momentarily pip through bullet sprays unscathed. While tame early on, the action does heat up by around world four, and some of the battles against the underworld’s minions are cleverly thought out and enjoyable to take on.
Restless Soul uses a lot of camera perspective shifts, sometimes coming down to eye-level or panning out depending on the staging of the battle, but a little more regularity in its invention wouldn't have gone amiss. Bullet spreads can be navigated in 360 degrees, and enemies sport increasingly original attack types throughout the game. The dungeons and towns, while initially rather dull, do start to flesh out and introduce more engaging ideas later on, including the odd-puzzle, minigame, moving platform, and dash-disabled room to navigate.
What makes or breaks things, however, is the heavy reliance on humour to fill the yawning gaps between its action. The amount of actual ‘game’ in Restless Soul pales in comparison to its reams of comic dialogue, constant quips, fourth-wall-breaking jokes and banter between NPCs. It’s more sitcom than RPG, at times, and will either prove incredibly entertaining or groan-worthily tiresome.
Imagine the humorous dialogue moments of Paper Mario — a title from which Restless Soul draws a fair amount of influence — and now imagine that it was 80% of the game. You stop every few seconds, either within dungeons or towns, for exchanges that are often un-skippable and very similar in tone:
“I can’t let you through without a permit.”
“Oh really? Where does it say so?”
“In the script that’s been attached to me."
While the banter has a certain amount of charm, for us it became wearisome somewhat quickly. There’s almost too much of it. You can’t ignore NPCs entirely — there are times when you need pointers — but most offer no useful information whatsoever, and are only there to serve up yet another ba-dum-tss moment. Developer Fuz, who appears in-game as a townsperson, clearly thinks of themselves as a witticist, and that’s fine — just be aware that if you tire of the humour, you’ll tire of the game.