Phantom Trigger Review
A 2D action game, Phantom Trigger’s combat provides the player with three types of attacks to help take down enemies: a slow red attack with higher damage, a quicker blue attack, and a green whip that lets you rope in enemies. These three powers level up individually as they are used, with higher levels granting new types of attacks. One attack allows you to freeze enemies in place, while another will leave a ring of fire on the ground that damages enemies over time. New attacks are powerful and useful, granting the player novel ways to take down enemies, who often come quickly and in big groups.
Phantom Trigger’s hero can also teleport a short distance and this ability became essential in my playthrough of the game. Not only is it useful in travelling around the map, it’s the only way to avoid enemy attacks in small enclosed areas or during boss fights. During combat, enemies aren’t particularly clever in how they attack you but they do hit fast and hard. As a result of this, timing and quick reflexes are rewarded. Combat consists of rapid oscillations between offense and defence, between escaping one enemy’s attack and then immediately striking a different enemy. Some abilities even combine evasion and attack. The combat in Phantom Trigger is the game’s strongest aspect. It’s challenging but fair, thanks to good controls and fun character movement. It’s also fast and incredibly stressful.
Combat may be Phantom Trigger’s strongest point, but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the game is a dud. The game’s music, art, story, and design are well realized and fully developed. It’s just that none of them are as good as the combat. The level design, for example, gives the player pretty big areas to explore. The problem is that there isn’t really much reason to explore. Yes, there a few relics that grant you some experience points as well as a few items strewn about that you can bring back to NPC’s, but nothing surprising or cool. The experience points earned from relics did help but not a lot, and I am not sure if the items had any other use than revealing more of the story through dialogue. The positive aspect of the level design is that there are four main areas in the game, and each feels very different from the other. The differences aren’t just superficial art or weather effects – each level tasks the player with goals that are just different enough from one another that the game never feels like it lags in its 4-6 hour playthrough. Boss fights are enjoyable in how they don’t reveal immediately how to defeat the boss.
Phantom Trigger will receive a lot of comparisons to last year’s Hyper Light Drifter, another colourful but morose 2D action game which shares Phantom Trigger’s camera, musical style, and pixelated art. My initial reaction was to compare the two as well, but the more that I played Phantom Trigger, the more it felt like its own entity. Part of this is the subtle differences in art style and the games’ respective worlds. Drifter’s world felt like an ancient world where the organic and the natural were combining, Phantom’s feels more like a dream state. Phantom Trigger’s colour palette is smaller, its enemies are deadlier and less diverse, and its soundtrack is more industrial.
Coincidentally, the story in Phantom Trigger does follow a similar tone from the one Hyper Light Drifter. Both stories deal with death, specifically the journey of one character through a dying world. The difference is that Phantom Trigger’s story is told much less cryptically, a characteristic that I think the game benefits from. The cutscenes are short, realized through colourful pixelated art. The story is simple, but it hides enough from the player so that the game’s ending remains in suspense until the very end. The story is more than just a conduit for the gameplay – it does try to tell us something about life. However, it doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay nor does it ruin the game’s pacing with long, drawn-out cutscenes. Phantom Trigger’s themes are amplified as a result of the speed with which the story is told.
There are a few warts in Phantom Trigger, namely bug and glitches, that will hopefully be patched out in the coming months. Some users report being stuck in certain game areas and unable to reload far enough back to escape their fate. One quick fix from the developers may be to allow manual saves so that players have a larger selection from which to load from if they do get stuck. The extent of these glitches is impossible to know, but hopefully the existence of a day one patch is a sign of the attention that the developers will be giving to Phantom Trigger post-release.
And the game does deserve the attention of its developers, as well as gamers. Phantom Trigger is a game with a well developed art style, enjoyable music, and strong gameplay design. The combat is the star, rewarding quick thinking and fast reflexes. The array of attacks available to the player are enjoyable to experiment with and can be combined in interesting ways. As for its faults, Phantom Trigger has a few. Aside from glitches, its range of enemy designs starts to show its lack of depth towards the end of the game, while the game’s level design could have incorporated more interesting items and places to explore. Phantom Trigger is a very enjoyable action game with a good story, but it could have used a few months in development in order to smooth its rough edges.