Phantom Trigger comes from the 2-man development studio who made Divide by Sheep, and was a clever puzzle game for PC and mobile. Phantom Trigger does a lot of things well, but there some miss-steps along the way. Perhaps its most distinct feature is the visual style which hearkens other recently released games, but it’s much more than what it looks like. There’s a deeper game here, held back by limitations and other constraints from being better than what it is.
From the outside looking in, it seems Phantom Trigger riffs on the aesthetic of Hyper Light Drifter and Kamiko, but that surface-level view is only a small part of what makes Phantom Trigger. It is fun to look at, but the story that unfolds at first, is rather startling. A man and his wife are conversing in their kitchen and colors and lighting are normal, when the man collapses. The game then shifts to a neon-drenched place where you The Outsider, seemingly inside his head as begins a fight with a disease. The story never properly resolves itself, or answers the questions you may have as it bounces between the alternate world and his progress in fighting the disease.
Phantom Trigger plays like a hack ‘n’ slash game, and you quickly unlock a total three weapons: a red fist, a blue whip, and a green sword. They each have different ranges of effectiveness and certain items in the world will only react to them. All the weapons also level up independently of one another the more you use them, introducing some minor RPG elements to the game. However, you might think that leveling up a weapon means you’re doing more damage, you’re not. What it actually does, is unlock new moves which only appear on the screen for about 2 seconds and are impossible to find what combos you can do. It’s a flip on the normal RPG, but it’s a letdown as you aren’t becoming more powerful, just more dexterous.
Phantom Trigger is tough. Before starting the game, you’re asked what difficulty to choose from: Normal or Hardcore. Hardcore is the recommended way to play, but I found Normal just feels better across the board. At checkpoints (a very distinct marking on the ground), it will light up, save your game, and restore your health. The checkpoints seem evenly placed and fair, and are appreciated. They also are a sigh of relief when you come across them. What I don’t get, is that in local co-op, you share a life meter with your friend. The game likes to give every opportunity to unbalance things if you try to make things in your favor.
There are five unique worlds you explore, each with a different look than the last: neon-soaked, snow, mines, and so on. As you traverse, not only will you be engaging in combat, but solving puzzles along the way. These puzzles are generally frustrating as it usually involves moving a big thing to land on a precise area, and it’ll either go too far or not enough. The other puzzles are better and are all generally less frustrating. You’ll usually know how to solve any given puzzle, but don’t have the precision to execute what needs to be done to move on.
Phantom Trigger has some faults, such as some random slowdowns during combat – though it is well worth the time it takes to complete the game and subsequent plays will let you see the multiple endings. The level up system is somewhat misleading and disappointing as it introduces depth, but not damage into its systems. Phantom Trigger has a great story underneath it, it just doesn’t go far enough to tell something more compelling. That said, I still recommend playing Phantom Trigger, because there’s something fascinating in exploring and engaging in combat through this beautiful looking game.
A pre-release Nintendo Switch eShop code was provided by the publisher for review purposes