As a game approaches release one has to be careful with the marketing machine surrounding it. That’s because sometimes a game is described as one thing, but not might match up with what you think it will be. Double Cross fell into that trap for me, as I had read over and over again via press releases and other means that the game was a “Mega Man-like”. Now, when I heard that I immediately thought of bosses I could kill and steal their weapons, shooting mechanics, and perhaps a stage select screen to tackle the levels in any order I wanted. In reality Double Cross features melee combat (punching and kicking) and not much in the shooting department. It does, however, provide gamers with the ability to tackle stages in any order they see fit. I guess that’s all it takes to be a “Mega Man-like”. There’s more in common here with Phoenix Wright (having to collect clues and present them to various characters), but that goes to show you how expectations can be raised and not met. That’s not to say this game isn’t worth playing. It definitely is. Just know what you’re in for by reading the rest of the review.
You play as Zahra Sinclair who works as an agent for R.I.F.T. (Regulators of Interdimensional Frontiers and Technology) – a group that monitors the many different parallel worlds for infractions. You’re tasked with solving a variety of crimes while at the same time trying to keep peace and order between the dimensions. You have a host of characters on your team that you’ll interact with and learn more about the mysteries unfolding around you. As you progress through the various stages you’ll need to come back to them at your home base and chat with them some more, oftentimes bringing back an item to show them to unlock more of the story.
I grew up with 8-bit and 16-bit games where games like this were all about jumping into the game and getting right to the action. We still get a few games like this today, but more often than not it seems like we have to have a tutorial to teach us the ins and outs of gameplay. That’s not different here, and in fact I was surprised at how much preamble there is before getting to the first stage. Not only do you have to pass a training regiment, but you also have to chat with a bunch of different characters at length before the game truly begins. Perhaps I was in the wrong mindset at the time and just wanted to get to the meat and potatoes, but I found this annoyingly unnecessary and boring. Some will no doubt appreciate the extra backstory and detail that went into the beginning portion, but I was itching to dive in.
Thankfully after the beginning segments the game really allows the player to proceed unencumbered. Right off the bat you’ll have three worlds to choose from, each with three separate stages to take on. They’re ranked signaling their difficulty, so you’re encouraged to begin with the easier ones, but you can go at it how you like. Zahra has a variety of moves at her disposal, including light and heavy punches to take out the enemies. She can jump around with ease and there’s a dodge button to avoid incoming attacks and certain hazards, like vertical electronic beams that you have to pass through. In each stage are purple crystals to collect and when you complete a stage these are processed and fill up your upgrade meter. When you rank up you gain new abilities, some of which you can turn on or off and others that are passive. You’ll learn some new moves, like the slide kick and the jump kick. These come in very handy as you progress through the game and I really enjoyed being able to gain new moves as time wore on.
Although I found the combat to be somewhat lacking and mostly mashing buttons, the platforming parts of the game (which there are many) were quite enjoyable. In addition to her standard jump, Zahra has an energy beam that she can use to grab objects and sling her in various directions. When you activate it the game goes into a sort of bullet-time slow-motion mode, giving you extra time to precision jump. Some levels will have you swinging from object to object as if you were Tarzan to gain access to secret areas or to avoid hazards on the ground. It took a few minutes to really get this gameplay mechanic down, but once mastered it’s a really fun tool to mess around with. You’ll need to use this grappling beam to grab items and solve small puzzles. You can even snag enemies’ projectiles and throw them back at them for extra damage.
Most of the fun of the game came in exploring the stages and navigating the levels. Zahra is quite nimble and can even wall jump. There are many secret places where the purple crystals are hidden, so it was fun trying to locate all of them. Many stages introduce new hazards and gameplay opportunities that can be fun to tackle. For example, one early level has different colored goo blobs that when destroyed will splat across the surface. Some is bouncy and some is sticky. To reach higher platforms and traverse the area you’ll need to figure out where to place the goo so that you can properly navigate the area. These small puzzles reminded me ever so slightly of Portal 2, but never quite got as complex or innovative as that game. Even so, I really like it when games make you stop and think about how to proceed. Another level featured conveyor belts carrying different sized boxes that you had to time just right to make it past the various hazards. The variety of challenges throughout the game helped keep things exciting and it’s truly the game’s strong suit.
Visually the game looks pretty slick, although I think this sort of art style has been overused in recent years. I appreciate the detailed animation and the character designs, which are quite imaginative. The backgrounds aren’t overly detailed, though, and the whole visual aesthetic looks sort of generic. There’s not much here to make it stand out from other games, but it’s not bad either. It seems more time was spent really fleshing out your team of characters at your base than designing really cool enemies to fight. When I encountered the small dinosaurs in one level I kind of chuckled because they looked like something even I could have drawn, which is not a compliment. Maybe what the game lacks in the enemy design is charm – something the Mega Man series has always managed to achieve.
The sound department is pretty good. As expected there’s no voice here, but that’s not needed in a game of this type. There are a good variety of music tracks to listen to, but they do tend to repeat rather quickly. This becomes very noticeable because the levels are generally fairly long, but at the same time the music really grew on me and I don’t know that it would have if they tracks were longer. Some are better than others, but for the most part I really enjoyed the audio.
Any developer who has had a hit on its hands can sometimes find it hard to follow it up with another. 13AM Games found success with its multiplayer-centric Runbow and it’s nice to see them try something completely different with Double Cross. While I had a fun time with the game, I can’t help but think it could have been even better if most of the dialog was cut out and the silly clue finding was eliminated. It just didn’t add anything to the experience for me. The game’s chattiness just got in the way of the natural flow of things, and that’s unfortunate. Even though I push back on the “Mega Man-like” description, what’s here is still compelling and the exploration aspect of the stages saved the day. Just don’t go in expecting anything revolutionary.
Double Cross Review
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Double Cross is a fun action game that allows your character to gain upgrades by finding secret crystals. Some of the stage designs are really great and traversal of the world is fun. Combat becomes rather boring very quickly and the story really isn’t all that compelling. Luckily you can button mash your way through the not so great parts and still have a good time with the rest of the game!