Phantom Trigger Review

Phantom Trigger is a top-down hack-and-slash dungeon crawler along the lines of Hyper Light Drifter and Kamiko. Through its focus on close-range melee action and a gritty, yet colorful, pixelated presentation, it certainly earns its developers’ description of “Hardcore Neon Slasher.” The game achieves what it sets out to be, but I was left wanting more from it.

You play as the Outsider, a mysterious scarfed man who carves his own path through enemy hordes in the Neon World. He has the ability to perform a teleport dash, similarly to Mr. Shifty or X-Men's Nightcrawler, and is armed with three primary weapons. The green whip lassos enemies closer to you and can also grab distant items to throw at foes. The icy blue sword slashes nearby opponents, and the fire-imbued red claws can…also slash nearby opponents. Wielding these weapons is fun at first, but it too soon becomes a slog. The upgrade system helps offset the tedium, offering combo abilities, like freeze or fire dash, as you level up each weapon.  Even then, there are only eight combos, and most are mere elemental variations of each other. The weapons are effective, but the limited options make gameplay repetitive – a problem augmented by monotonous dungeon design.

There are five dungeons, and while they have differing aesthetics, they all follow the same basic structure: travel through a maze of enemy-infested rooms until you reach the boss. There are occasional basic puzzles, such as a simple memory test or maneuvering a block to a switch. But for the most part, dungeons consist of the same few enemy types and layouts.

Phantom Trigger has its fair share of strengths. The game is as “hardcore” as advertised, and it can be brutal, even on Normal difficulty. Interestingly enough, Hard is the default mode, which says something about what the developers value. Though I lost many lives getting to the end, a generous helping of checkpoints eased the frustration. As you can only heal at checkpoints, I ended up getting stuck in several “kill rooms,” and only pure perseverance and my own skill improvement carried me past them. The bosses were exceptional, with cleverly hidden weak spots and intimidating presences. I wish there were more cerebral challenges like these to balance the tedium of the dungeon crawl.

The story is surprisingly compelling. While you play as the Outsider in the Neon World, you occasionally receive glimpses of the real world and a terminally ill patient named Stan. The mystery behind the connections between Stan and the Outsider drew me in, and the ongoing drama between Stan, his wife, and their harsh realities kept me going. There are four endings based on your actions and decisions, but replaying through a roughly six hour campaign that was already tiresome the first time just to witness a slightly different finale may not be worth it. At least its cooperative two-player mode may convince players to go at it again, though you’d need a good partner since you share the same life bar.

The pixelated retro environments of Neon World are impressive, and the visual clash between the gritty drab world and your vibrant weapons stands out. Gameplay runs smoothly, though there were times where the game seemingly glitched. And no, I don’t mean the purposeful glitches done for show. Occasionally, the game would load my file and then reload it immediately, sometimes inserting the title screen music or taking the sound out altogether. Assuming this wasn’t on purpose to supplement the story, these glitches along with the minute-long startup load times reveal some performance issues under the hood. The soundtrack is a blend of techno and metal, but I was more impressed with the sound effects. Each weapon produces a noise reminiscent of a Star Wars lightsaber, which adds to the charm of its neon appearance.

Phantom Trigger is decent at being the top-down hack-and-slash game that the developers at Bread Team set out to create. The compelling story, stunningly pixelated neon world, and challenge are its strengths. If it weren’t bogged down by dull dungeon design, a limited move-set, and tedious gameplay, this action title could have stood out. As it is, Phantom Trigger is recommended only to those willing to look past its repetitive nature to experience this “hardcore neon slasher.”

I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!