Phantom Trigger. Neon is the spice of life.

Phantom trigger: Neon is the spice of life.


This week the fast growing producer TinyBuild of Hello Neighbor fame released a new game created by indie “Bread Team” a duo of developers that originated from the Ukraine/Russia. The development was developed while war broke out in the region forcing the creators and their families to relocate mid-development. And perhaps this experience has worked its way into the game the story has to tell.This is off course just conjecture and speculation on my part but the story of Phantom Trigger is about life and death and tough choices you need to make at times even if not any of them are very good options. In Phantom trigger you play Stan, one morning when mulling with his wife over what’s for breakfast Stan drops to the floor out cold and you find yourself as a mysterious stranger in an odd world, unsure what is going on or what to do. From here on you fade back and forth between consciousness of Stan’s world and the mysterious stranger trying to survive and find out what the mystery even is before you can start to solve it. 

So how much am I paying for this session?

Phantom trigger promotes itself as a “hardcore neon slasher” and it shows, sporting a now familiar isometric style, top down pixelated, game world with 2d story panels it skips the handholding all together and drops you straight in the game. From the moment Stan falls to the floor you are left to your own devices, multiplying the mystery of whatever this is you find yourself in.  When I started the game I was sitting with the kids trying to figure out what to do next as I proceeded through the neon laden underworld that was presented in front of me, checking carefully what each button does. I encountered strange beings that I could interact with, but at this stage they were apprehensive in their communication as I was a much a stranger to them as they were to me. Eventually I stepped through a portal and the action started as I paced through the maze filled with crazy creatures that would slash at me, explode or straight up shoot lasers from their television shaped heads. No tutorial was to be found and we had to rely on my knowledge of video games gained over the years and the intuition and ingenuity of the kids.



Many game deaths followed, each replay changing the way I was playing  little by little. I had been too hungry to head straight into battle at the start often getting myself in trouble as the enemies kept swarming me, each with a different attack pattern. It became important to get into a proper battle rhythm and clear area's in a thought out manner to allow me to advance further. Fighting a group of creatures feels like a self contained puzzle and the game keeps changing the rules over time creating the need to adjust your attack plans on the fly.
After a while I found myself getting frustrated on the lack of progress I was making and paused the game when I noticed I could set the game to local coop mode on the fly. So I did, grabbed another controller and handed it to my daughter sitting next to me. In coop the game was still difficult, but working together was way more fun then playing solo. It was interesting to see that in coop you share the same lifeboat, so both players are equally responsible to keep from getting hit.  In the chaos of the battles it was at times a bit hard to follow where each character was on screen, although the game camera always follows player 1. So far we managed to beat the first two bosses and learn more about what is going on with the story , this in turn allowed us to better understand what was happening in the game world and it made it easier and more logical for us to play. 


Gameplay
Phantom trigger is a top down hack and slash game with RPG elements. as you progress you will receive upgrades to your weapon arsenal consisting of a green whip, blue sword and massive red magic fists. Your last button is reserved for a speed warp motion , much like in Mr. Shifty but you cannot phase through objects, even so it is a great way to get out of dodge quickly. Weapons level up as you fight through the worlds by hitting monsters and colored rocks throughout the maze. Sometimes you even find stations that will give one of your items a massive XP boost. 
While you fight there is a sort of battle rhythm you have to get used to in the manner you attack in real time. this is helped in part by audio queues  as well as visual ones on screen. Now I do not want to make you think it is a rhythm game, because it is not, but there is beneficial to work methodically as you dispense your enemies.
Sometimes you move from hallway to hallway and other times you find areas magically close off around you, forcing you to clear the area first before you can continue.There are plenty of save points on the way that point the next way to go, but it is beneficial to explore and find additional upgrades and items along the way. The checkpoints also heal your health to a 100%. Other than that you can only heal a fraction from an occasional enemy drop.  Eventually you will presented with an end boss that you need to defeat to return to the basecamp you started from and they are pretty massive. You will need your reflexes as well as your wits to figure out how to beat each of them. 







Story 
The story in the game presents itself in a fragmented way, moving back and forth from fantasy neon underworld to the hospital and the lives of Stan and his wife , sometimes during gameplay a glitch will pull you back into what seems to be the real world, learn a bit about what is happening and then you are thrusted back to continue fighting.
The game is said to have 4 different endings and from what I have seen, this will be determined to the choices you make in the game. The different creatures you encounter all have some hidden agenda it seems and the choice is yours to follow their advice or to ignore it.
Nothing we seen so far is particular unsuited for children , but the theme of death and how to deal with it are present and seem the main focus in the story. It is however not worse then a story of the brothers Grimm.

Graphics
The game uses pixel art in a topdown/isometric view with tons of neon coloring. The art style works well with the theme and even though at times the graphics seem rudimentary , effects like wind and snow and great lighting make the game look nice. On the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode, the characters look a bit small , but in docked mode this is not an issue.
For the story scenes, especially the “reality” parts with Stan made me think I was playing one of those old S.C.U.M.M engine adventure games like “Monkey Island” the art style would have fit well.

Sound
A pulsing soundtrack that feels right at home in any cyberpunk neon world with interesting and clear sound effects that help staying immersed as well as assist to identify incoming attacks and generating a battler rhythm when attacking. There are no voice over , all story and other information is presented to you by text only.


Verdict.

We have had a great time playing through this game, I found coop to be way more satisfying then solo personally, but both option are valid ways to play. The kiddo’s would have loved to see a little bit more of a tutorial at the beginning to bette grasp how things worked, and I do not disagree with them, but since my time most games would leave you to your own devices to learn the rules of the game, a part of me did enjoy going back to that feeling and sense of discovery. I am not sure if sharing the same health bar is something I prefer, the problem is in hectic battles a mistakes punished both players. Maybe allowing one player to continue and try to make it to a save point where the other can be revived would be my preferred solution especially concerning the difficulty. Which brings me to the last point, The difficulty and in part the story line  makes this game hard to play with younger children, I would say anyone 13 and up should be able to take on the challenge unless you get frustrated easily. It is not for young kids, or anyone who is just a casual gamer. If you are looking for a fun challenge however with drop in coop for a cheap entry price this game offers all you need. There is even an included arena mode, which I have not unlocked yet, seemingly offering an additional way to enjoy the game after you finished it.  As a parent this game can perhaps also offer a point of dialog about the subject of death as well on the consequences of making certain decisions in game. But off course you can also simply just enjoy a game together without any deeper thinking.


If you are not ready for a hardcore adventure, just move on and skip this game even at its reasonable price point, but if you are up for the challenge, you should probably check it out. 




Game Information:
Title: Phantom Trigger
Developer: Bread Team
Publisher: TinyBuild
Release date:August 10, 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC(Steam)
Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch



















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