Indie games fall into two categories: high-art or classic inspired. High-art games like That Dragon Cancer and Her Story aim to tell complex and emotional stories that aren’t usually present in AAA games, where classic inspired indies like Shovel Knight and Stardew Valley aim to recreate gaming magic from the past. Phantom Trigger sits somewhere in between both of these categories, with addictive hack and slash gameplay and a story of embracing imagination at death’s door.
After the main character suffers an unknown injury, he lands in the hospital seeking experimental treatment. These segments interject the gameplay in weird points, moving the story along with a frantic pace that reminds me of the ups and downs of a hard medical diagnosis. The main draw, though, is the tough-as-nails, neon-colored, beat-em-up sections of the game.
This is where Phantom Trigger really shines. The combat is quick and has a very distinct flow to it. You have four moves to string together: a dash, a sword attack, a slow fist attack and a whip attack. The whip is where things really start to get interesting, as it allows you to interact with the environment by knocking objects into enemies for damage, or pulling enemies towards you. This gives you lots of ways to approach fights, and will certainly test you as well.
Even on the Normal difficulty setting, Phantom Trigger is difficult. It sends you to a game over screen more often than not. I found much more success after I switched to a controller versus the PC controls. It is honestly the best way to play the game.
The one thing that sucks is that combos are locked behind a leveling system for each individual weapon. There is no clear way to tell how to gain experience for a certain weapon. Is it based on how often you use that weapon? Does that weapon type have to gain the killing blow to gain a level? Even with hours of gameplay, I have no clear answer to that question.
The only major complaint, aside from the odd PC control scheme, is the camera work, specifically during boss battles. Phantom Trigger uses layered pixel art to create the illusion of depth, and while 8 out of 10 times it isn’t a problem, there are times where the top layer will obscure your vision, leading to an unnecessary death.
During boss battles, this problem exacerbates itself, as the camera pulls out to show the giant enemies you are fighting in all of their glory, only to sometimes block your vision of your character. I also kept instinctively flicking my second stick as habit from Diablo III on consoles, only to have to remember that my dash was controlled with the A button and my left stick instead.
Ultimately, Phantom Trigger is difficult, but deeply rewarding once you lock into the pace of the combat system. The game starts with a screen saying that the best way to play Phantom Trigger is with headphones, and I would absolutely have to agree with that. The beat and sounds made after each swing create a rhythm to the combat that makes everything flow naturally, even if you end up dying half way through your combos.
This review originally appeared on RoguesPortal.com.