It is only natural to become inspired by the games that we grew up on, which is why we see a lot of familiar mechanics and styles within the indie game space. While we all clamor for a new Metroid, there is a handful of games that give you the same feeling sans Samus. In this case, Bytten Studio’s Cassette Beasts delivers a Pokemon-like experience while elevating the genre, adding it’s own underground track to the mixtape.
As I continue to compare this game to Pokemon, Cassette Beasts is much deeper than that. Sure, on the surface there are elemental monsters that fight each other by leveraging various strengths and weaknesses, but if that is all it takes then by all means, sure, it’s a clone. When it comes to these similarities, they pretty much stop there. Everything else within Cassette Beasts helps the game stand out amongst the other titles. I’d hate to absolutely reduce this game down to the “It is like Pokemon but…” because there is so much to unpack here. It would be a shame for me to spoil anything, because everything I experienced within this game was a genuine surprise to me.
You create a character and venture out into this world, discovering that you can use your trusty walkman to transform into the various monsters that inhabit this island. You try to uncover this mystery of why everyone is here and why they can’t escape. You’re trying to make the best of a bad situation, and that feeling lasts throughout the rest of the game.
When Art Imitates Life
I hand so much credit to the developers who have the gall to place a societal stance and how it parodies life. Turning landlords into vampiric enemies that you encounter from time to time whilst accurate not only shines the light on how draining capitalistic ideology can be, but it proves how music and art gives us the warmth of color, a sense of expression through these mediums.
Turn based combat is pretty standard. One of the biggest changes is the capturing mechanic. During combat scenarios you can “record” monsters to blank cassette tapes to transform into later. While fun in itself, it doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of what the game offers in terms of combat. There are two sides of battles. Side-A is standard battles where you will fight other monsters. Then there are B-side battles where the “B” clearly stands for Boss. These really engrossing boss battles which change up the formula feels like a puzzle. Once it clicks, the battle becomes much easier.
Combat isn’t the only thing that changes when it comes to fighting these big bosses. Cassette Beasts adopts a retro-bit artistic style with exquisitely drawn full character portraits for moments of conversation. When encountering the Archangels, the game’s bosses, style changes. One boss in particular had a claymation look, the screen was distorted, and it presented a sense of true horror within this universe. It becomes a bit unsettling in such a good way that it pulls you in. You want to experience more and more of what Cassette Beasts has to offer.
Like a reflection of the 80’s, Cassette Beasts is engrossed in the vintage style of using actual cassettes in real life. A pencil acts like the health potion, for instance. Quests and rumors are all homages to classic songs. Puns run rampant throughout the game as well with monsters, attacks, and more making me roll my eyes to the back of my head in glee. Musically inspired names for attacks and the beasts themselves are genuinely funny and clever.
Equalizing the Tones
While the game is a blast to play, there are still a few concepts that could use some improving. For instance, the recording mechanic isn’t as straight forward as I’d like. If I feel like I am doing something wrong, there is no glossary for me to check to make sure. Additionally, the balance seems to be a bit off. Some of my higher leveled beasts had a rough time going up against lower-leveled enemies, even when I properly switched to the more effective beasts. Funny enough, there are some settings that allow you to easily adjust the difficulty, and I found that to be incredibly welcoming. Allowing me to fine-tune my experience is always something I commend; more so with the lack of punishment.
I could say that is a testament to the way combat is designed. Most monsters fit a role within the team, with some monsters taking a defensive, offensive, or support designation. It doesn’t become fully clear until you look at the abilities that can be used, which can be improved with the addition of stickers that are easily attached to your tape. This makes the combat in Cassette Beasts incredibly interesting, you can easily min/max your beast and leverage it’s strengths to make them incredibly powerful, as long as you paid enough attention to the litany of tutorial text. It isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it is just a lot and it is doled out sparingly, which makes memorization of these skills, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses that much more difficult to fully master; which is fine. This is a new take on an old formula, and it pays off.
Cassette Beasts is a wonderful time and takes an old-school approach to role-playing games by not spelling everything out for you. I said that boss battles feel a lot like puzzles, and so does the game’s world map. At one point I was walking around aimlessly trying to figure out where to go next. While there are generalized markers, I still had to decipher what the rumors mean. Half the fun of this game is the sense of discovery, and once you figure it out whether on purpose or by mistake, the game gives you a bit of an opening to continue on forward as the reward. When it comes to monster capturing and fighting games out there, I’ll take Cassette Beasts over anything else.
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