There aren’t many genres that I have as much distilled nostalgia for as beat ’em ups. Playing Young Souls instantly took me back to those halcyon days from my youth spent trying to figure out how to beat Golden Axe, or instantly summoning the police by accident in Streets Of Rage. It’s a genre that lends itself perfectly towards short bursts of arcade gameplay, and more often than not, a good time to be had in local co-op.
Then, Young Souls proceeded to beat those days up, get a far higher score, and then stomp those days into the ground like the punks they were. It’s a wonderfully modern take on an old genre that is replete with excellent systems, a wicked sense of humour, and some of the most realistic writing I’ve ever seen when it comes to portraying how teenagers swear. They swear a lot, not always in the right place, and it’s kind of endearing.
Characterisation aside, Young Souls has you playing as a pair of twins called Jenn and Tristan, who were adopted by The Professor, who now have to try and rescue said professor from some evil goblins. This isn’t a high-fantasy world, not as far as you’re aware at the beginning of the game though, so it’s all happened because of weird experiments and secret underground worlds.
It makes for a simple enough reason to go and rescue someone, which is, in and of itself, just a reason for you to beat a lot of things up. Despite that, the story feels surprisingly wholesome in places, and you’ll quickly find yourself rooting for the mismatched family as things progress, especially as you learn more about all of the involved members.
The core gameplay in Young Souls is that of a beat ’em up, but also one of a dungeon crawler. Rather than working your way through levels sequentially, you’ll have to carve your own path through magical dungeons that are all linked via a magical gateway in your basement. Your aim is to find Runes of Power to charge up the gateway to allow you to rescue The Professor, and you’re going to have to fight a lot of monsters to manage this.
On top of the basic baddies, you’ll also need to face off against bosses. These are the moments where your skillset will actually be tested. You’ll often need to parry specific attacks to open up windows, roll out of the way of big strikes, and utilise your standard and magical attacks to whittle down their health bars. You’ll also regularly have to beat them through multiple phases, with many bosses becoming faster and more aggressive as they lose health bars. These fights are where the game shines brightest, and overcoming a boss here gives a wonderful sense of elation, especially if they’ve beaten you up a couple of times.
Most of the dungeons you’ll be crawling through have multiple paths through them, and many of those paths will require special keys or unlocks, so while there are times when you can pick your own path, you’ll generally just be taking the one that’s actually open to you. You’ll often find keys as you go on that link to older areas, which is a nice excuse to revisit things and keep exploring.
However, while the path is often straightforward, there is a sense of freedom granted by your ability to go back to town as you wish, and then go shopping, upgrade your weapons or abilities, or hit the gym. The latter is linked to your level-ups. You can only level up by sleeping if you’ve got enough experience, and in doing so, you’ll sometimes acquire a gym ticket. Going to the gym will then allow you to put some extra points into one of your three stats via a mini-game. It’s a fun little way to break up the flow of the game.
You can also change your stats thanks to the loot you’ll find or buy as you play the game. Weapons have incredibly varied attacks and their own mix of pros and cons as well. You’ll find your favourites for sure, but it’s a lot of fun experimenting with everything you find because the combat has a wonderful sense of weight, with each wallop being worthy of a wow.
Young Souls breathes new life into the beat ’em up genre. It adds in plenty of modern systems to a core old-school gameplay loop, and it does so with aplomb. There are multiple difficulty modes to allow players to fine-tune the game to be harder or easier based on their wants and preferences, and it even has local co-op as well.
All of this comes in a beautiful Saturday Morning Cartoon visual style with a soundtrack that constantly fits the mood perfectly too. Every aspect of the game compliments every other part wonderfully, and thanks to the inherent nostalgic attraction of a beat ’em up, it feels a bit like upgrading one of your favourite childhood meals with better spices and flavours. It’s satisfying in a way that few games manage.
- Excellent combat
- Beautiful style
- Wonderfully endearing characters
- Some fights can feel a bit like a difficulty spike