By Josh Speer / January 10th, 2019
|Release Date||January 10th, 2018|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Fantasy Violence|
One of the benefits of being a hardcore fan of indie games is I’m more tapped into projects that might not be on everybody else’s radar. Case in point, the latest title from 13AM Games, Double Cross. I’d been following it for a little more than a year after discovering it thanks to the magic of the internet. At first glance I could immediately tell this project was a big step up from the relatively young company. While they had great success with iterations of Runbow and charmed many when they published the delightfully retro Pirate Pop Plus, Double Cross promised to be something on an even larger scale. This action platformer has interdimensional travel, tight platforming and a colorful cast of characters. Keep reading to see if it was able to cinch the place as my favorite experience yet from 13AM Games and Graffiti Games.
The story revolves around an interdimensional police agency known as RIFT. They’re charged with keeping exotic technology out of the hands of dangerous or primitive forces. Like their name suggests, they do so via portal technology that lets them travel to and police different worlds. On occasion, RIFT finds new recruits on these worlds, as is the case with our hero, Zahra Sinclair. She’s a spunky upstart with a lot of heart, and her usual approach is to tackle things head on. She’s supported by an eclectic team, including a hulking plant man that could put the Jolly Green Giant to shame, a sweet master of disguise and many more. While the diversity of the team is an asset, it also quickly becomes a problem. After the game starts, RIFT is suddenly under attack from a mysterious masked individual who seems to have insider knowledge about the security of RIFT headquarters. In other words, one of your comrades is a traitor. Thus, Zahra’s job is to look for clues as to the identity of Suspect X, and find evidence of their dangerous activities.
You do this by traveling to three vastly different worlds with three levels a piece. Upon beating each stage, you’ll be rewarded with a clue. Once you get one, you’re required to talk with your RIFT crew to find someone to shine a light on them. Once you’ve retrieved and deciphered all the clues from any of the worlds, you’re able to put together and submit a case to your boss, Valery Wiseheart. She’s a no-nonsense merwoman with a chip on her shoulder. Once you submit a case, you’re given a warrant for arrest, which opens up the boss fight in that world. Eventually you’ll piece together a picture of who Suspect X is, and once you do, you’re able to tackle the final mission. I will say, though I figured out their identity relatively early, I’d be lying if I said I knew what the final boss fight was going to be.
It’s a lot of fun to interact with all the characters in Double Cross. They all have a distinct personality and quirky traits. Good examples are your right-hand guy Skip, who loves collectables and helps monitor problems from the base. Or take the cat girl Ada Lovepaws, a premier tech girl with some mild maniacal tendencies. Then there’s one of my favorites, Sam Squatch, a sasquatch scientist with a goofy sense of humor. Put together, they all do a good job of coloring the flavor of the game universe. This is a lighthearted place where darkness hides beneath a veneer of normalcy. Whether you’re fighting through a goo-filled swamp, playing games in a robotic arcade or fighting dinosaurs in a barren wasteland, you’re sure to have a smile on your face. And that’s not just because of the plot, it’s also because of the gameplay found in the game.
All the platforming in the game revolves around a nifty device called the Proton Slinger. It’s a bit like an electrical grappling hook, and it serves a variety of functions. First and foremost, you can use it to zip from grappling points. Your positioning determines the angle you’ll go flying, and you can use it midair. The only catch is you only can bring up the targeting reticle for a few seconds, so you’ll want to get the timing down quickly. The other use for the Slinger is to grab projectiles and toss them at things. This is very handy. Sometimes you can use the technique to defeat foes, other times you can open up new paths with it. It’s pretty diverse, and I appreciated the novelty of it. Though it did remind me a bit of the egg toss in Yoshi’s Island, it was different enough to stand out.
Besides using the Slinger, Zahra can also defend herself with punches and kicks. When you start, you’re only able to do a combo of light punches or a spectacular heavy punch, but as you progress you’ll unlock new moves via the Upgradium system. Essentially these are purple colored crystals that are well hidden in every level. By collecting enough of them, you’ll level up and be rewarded with new skills. Some are permanent and always active, such as an aerial kick, while others can be equipped at your discretion from save points. There’s a wide variety of them, giving effects such as increasing the time you can have the Slinger active to improving your starting energy. There’s a ton of them, but you’ll only get them all by collecting every scrap of Upgradium. I got close to 80 percent in my playthrough, but I missed out on a couple really useful optional skills like a double jump.
If that wasn’t enough, whenever you defeat an enemy you’ll get rewarded with energy that fills up your meter. You can use different increments of meter for a few extra moves to help you out. For example, by holding A you’ll heal Zahra, or by pressing L you can emit a shockwave, pushing foes back for some breathing room. The coolest is using R to shoot a devastating fireball at foes, though I generally reserved that one for larger, more intimidating threats. Tying all the combat together is a handy dodge move that not only avoids damage but also fills up your energy meter a bit. While it may seem tricky that most every button on the Switch is used, in execution it all felt pretty natural.
What really drew me to Double Cross, as much as the platforming hook, was the presentation. Visually this is a lovely game, with bright, anime-styled art that wouldn’t look out of place in a WayForward title. Everything is bubbling with personality and style, most especially the character art and tremendous boss fights. I won’t spoil them, but every boss encounter is a treat and makes good use of the mechanics. There were only a couple of areas the art faltered. First and most importantly, I’m pretty certain Double Cross doesn’t run at 60 FPS, or if it does, it isn’t all the time. While this rarely caused performance issues, it was a bit jarring to the eye, giving things a blurry sensation. Another area was the background art. For a game this colorful and well designed, the backgrounds often felt flat and lifeless. And while that didn’t ruin the game by any stretch, it was one factor which prevented it from getting a perfect score. On the musical side of things, the game has a lot of high-energy tracks which do a good job of keeping you invested. Though I can’t think of any standout tracks, some of my favorite tunes came from the prehistoric Reptarria stages.
Though I enjoyed the game, there were a couple areas where it missed the mark. Firstly, though I loved the constant banter and humor that happens as you play each stage, it’s irritating that it pops up every time you replay a stage. This made Upgradium hunting a chore. All that I really wanted was a button to skip dialogue after playing a stage the first time. A much worse example is in the second stage in the Funderdome. It requires you to go through an arcade and get scores high enough to get onto the in-game leaderboards. The problem is, one of the mini games you need to excel at is called Pillar Panic. It forces you to swing in midair, avoiding the walls and floor spikes which instantly kill you, and swing through several checkpoints. You need to do this at least six times in a row. Exacerbating it is that once you start the mini game, the wall behind you starts chasing you, and it will crush you if you’re too slow. Worse, if you die, you have to start over from the very beginning. Suffice to say, this forced mini game almost made me give up in despair, but thankfully the other five you need to play were much easier, and I eventually got past it. Also, while I do thoroughly enjoy the platforming in the game, the combat is less satisfactory. Not because it’s poorly done, but more that it feels kind of tacked on. I would have been fine with Zahra only using the Proton Slinger to fight, not punching or kicking at all. I’ve seen some games have great success formulating all the combat around a simple mechanic, and I guess I just hoped for something similar here. That said, the combat does the job, it just doesn’t hold up when compared side by side with the platforming.
Overall, I was really impressed by Double Cross. It was an ambitious project from 13AM Games that succeeded in raising expectations for what you can expect from the team. While I’ve enjoyed the other titles from them, this one stood out, thanks to the clever plot, the characters and the platforming. Yes, it has some minor issues, but those can mostly be overlooked. For $9.99 you get at least 5-7 hours of game, and that’s if you just rush through. If you’re a completionist, there’s even more fun to be had, collecting all the Upgradium and achieving the various Commendations (basically in-game achievements). If you enjoy platformers and a quirky cast, you’ll enjoy this one. I’m impressed by 13AM’s latest outing, and hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Zahra Sinclair and the RIFT!
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
13AM GamesActionanime styleDouble CrossGraffiti Gameshumorinterdimensionalplatformer