In August 1986, around the time that developer Fourattic’s Crossing Souls is set, Stand by Me was released in theaters. Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age film, an adaption of Stephen King’s novella The Body from 1982, tells the story of four friends in Oregon who go on a long, tumultuous adventure to find the body of a missing kid. Crossing Souls is a blatant copy and paste of this premise, which would be more forgivable if all of the game’s pop-culture pandering were more shrewd. While it does attempt to add variety to its story’s core conflict by mixing sci-fi and supernatural elements together with a bit of an analogue aesthetic, the game wears its influences so brazenly that the entire experience ends up feeling listless, predictable, and trite.
Set in Tujunga, California, Crossing Souls tells the story of five teens who discover a dead body while riding their bikes through the woods. The putrefied body clutches a stone of immeasurable power that grants the wielder the ability to see into the Duat, the realm of the dead in ancient Egyptian mythology. After prying the pyramid-shaped stone from the corpse’s hand, the gang is thrust onto a journey that ponders human and scientific advancement, tests the limits of friendship, and questions the idea of mortality. This ragtag band of friends, involuntarily, is tasked with saving the world from cataclysmic destruction. But what also follows the discovery of the stone is a series of exploitable combat scenarios, nonsensical character motivations, obtuse puzzles, and nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake.
Crossing Souls gushes redundant pop-culture references with little regard for narrative cohesion. Sure, there are some cheeky, fun references—an Enter the Gungeon shirt on a clothesline, a Mother Russia Bleeds cabinet in an arcade—but most of the allusions here have been made countless times before. And sometimes the references end up feeling crammed and packed together like sardines. One level is just a litany of Old West clichés—tumbleweeds, broken-into stables, bandits, and damsels in distress—set to folk country and injected with leftfield nods to The Goonies and Back to the Future. (At one point, Sid from Toy Story makes an appearance…in a game set in the ’80s.) Heavy-handed nostalgia, the kind that force-feeds ubiquitous pop-culture references, is overbearing and unnecessary, and Crossing Souls proves that.
The game wears its influences so brazenly that the entire experience ends up feeling listless, predictable, and trite.
Each of the game’s playable characters—Big Joe, Charlie, Chris, Kevin, and Matt—have their own attack animations, health pools, and special abilities. You can swap between the five kids on the fly, and Crossing Souls ensures that you have to use all of them at various points to progress through the campaign (shades of BonusXP’s Stranger Things: The Game). But as you might expect, some are more useful than others—Big Joe, as his name suggests, can deal massive amounts of damage, while Kevin just farts and picks his nose—and at a certain point in the game you can easily get by with just using two or three of the characters. (Also disappointing is that these kids are stereotypes familiar to so many coming-of-ages films and television shows, from the big black friend to the nerdy kid who has a knack for science.)
The impracticality of swapping characters is further underlined during Crossing Souls’s action sequences. While enemies are inclined to swarm you, it’s too easy to exploit their idiocy as they stop right in front of you before attacking. This makes pummeling them to death almost effortless, and regardless of your selected character’s stamina. It doesn’t help that there are only a limited number of enemy types, which means that you’ll see retextured enemies with the same A.I. programming as enemies from earlier in the game, allowing you to, again, pummel them to death without much effort. Bosses require a bit more attention, but they, too, are defeated in just a couple of hits, no matter how menacing and indomitable they may look.
The sometimes infuriating puzzles aren’t even inventive, just another riff on the trite “move this pillar over there to unlock the door to the next room” trope. None inspire an “a-ha” moment because their solutions don’t even make logical sense half of the time. Crossing Souls will offer you the basic elements to solve a puzzle but not enough context for the solution to make any sense. You may scratch your head, wondering how you even solved a puzzle, only to not care much and continue trudging forward, hoping for the game to flip the script in other ways toward the end of its short campaign. But, unfortunately, it never does, as almost everything here only exists, coherently or not, to serve up empty nostalgia for its own sake.