Described as ‘hardcore neon slasher’ Phantom Trigger is a two person effort by indie studio Bread Team. On the surface it is tempting to draw parallels to Hyper Light Drifter and although the visuals and layout look and feel similar initially, at the core this is a different experience. Fluid combat and interesting gameplay contrasts against a muddy and unclear story, leaving you with a satisfying yet unsatisfying game.
The story is certainly difficult to fathom initially. You are presented with visions of a man who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is left with the choice of expensive surgery or experimental treatment. The game switches between these flashes of a normal man’s life and a futuristic neon world and it’s really not clear how the two are connected. This mostly just creates some confusion as you move through the game. These visions of a normal life are essentially flashbacks occurring during a seizure it seems, and the game world is the place you are traversing while experiencing the seizure. It appears this is supposed to be what’s being communicated but it isn’t done well and leaves the earlier part of the game simply feeling oddly disjointed.
As you progress through the game you level up different fighting abilities and clear different areas of the map on the way to the bosses that are contained within each area. Simple puzzles and different enemies block your path as you move through each area and in themselves these elements aren’t especially challenging, but once a number of enemies with different movement patterns and attacks have appeared in a relatively small space the combat can ramp up rapidly. Phantom Trigger features three different combat techniques that you can level up and have different uses. You have a whip that can pull enemies towards you, a sword for fast attacks that you obtain before you properly start your journey and a slower but higher damage fist weapon that you gain after progressing through the first area a little. Each weapon has it’s own combo move as well that gives you an AoE attack and can help with tight groups of enemies. Generally the combat feels rapid and enjoyable with different playstyles available and different ways of tackling enemies.
There are some issues with the UI responding to controller prompts, which can be frustrating and may sometimes lead to the game having to put through a force restart as it may freeze during dialogue for reasons that aren’t entirely apparent. The controller appears to be the best tool for playing the game due to the hack and slash combat and this seems to be the intention since it feel clunky with a keyboard and mouse.
A truly beautiful game visually, Phantom Trigger creates a shadowy and mysterious world employing a gorgeous pixel art style to bring it’s characters and strange enemies to life. Bright neon colours sit in stark contrast with the blacks and greys of the background, enhancing the surreal and alien overall feel of the game. A lovely game to look at and a must for those who are enthusiastic about their pixel art.
Accompanying the exquisite art and generally fun gameplay is a great soundtrack. Electronic beats weave themselves into the environment and finish creating the glue that holds this intriguing title together. The music is wonderful and fits the setting perfectly, featuring sounds that never grow tiring or repetitive due to their seamless existence alongside the visual presentation and gameplay pace.
Phantom Trigger is a promising title from a small developer. It falls short where the story is concerned, presenting the player with something that feels muddled and lacking in reason. It also features a small number of minor but irritating bugs, which is not ideal but does not turn the game into something wholly negative. It’s excellent artistic execution redeems on many fronts it but it’s combat styles and difficulty level are certainly not to everyone’s tastes. An interesting experience with plenty to enjoy in the right hands.