As a huge fan of Platinum Games’ Bayonetta series, and of stylish action games in general, I’ve been eager to dive into Platinum’s upcoming Astral Chain ever since the company announced it earlier this year. And while this Nintendo Switch exclusive certainly hits the notes I expect from a Platinum game, I’ve been even more impressed by the ways it deviates from the publisher’s typical action game formula.
I’ll have a full verdict on Astral Chain closer to the game’s August 30 launch, but for now, here are some highlights from my first few hours with Platinum’s futuristic robot detective action/adventure.
Patented Platinum combat (with a twist)
Astral Chain delivers the slick, satisfying action you’d expect from a Platinum game, but in a much different flavor than you’ve seen before. At least in its first few chapters, the game is much more grounded than the likes of Bayonetta. There’s no jump button, and you won’t be doing over-the-top juggle combos with a full arsenal of weapons right out of the gate. The core sword combat and gunplay are snappy, and in typical Platinum fashion, performing last-second, slow motion dodges feels great (I do wish there was more of a gameplay benefit to timing those dodges perfectly, however).
Astral Chain’s seemingly basic combat quickly becomes more dynamic by your Legion: a sort of humanoid robot that you control in tandem with your player character. Your Legion will automatically start attacking baddies as soon as you unleash it, but you can also manually control it for more advanced maneuvers.
For example: You can use the chain between you and your Legion to tie up enemies and leave them defenseless, or to catch and slingshot an enemy that’s charging towards you. Both maneuvers are immensely satisfying.
Your Legion will overheat if it's in battle too long, adding an additional layer of strategy to the mix, as you’ll have to be wise about when and when not to unleash it. You’ll unlock different Legions, each with their own abilities, as you progress. These include a Sword Legion, which lets you lay down big damage with up-close slashes.
Astral Chain’s kinetic combat is just one half of the equation. When you’re not slaying mysterious “chimeras” that are appearing through portals, you’ll be doing some detective work around the city. Using your augmented-reality IRIS interface, you can investigate crime scenes and see recordings of past events to figure out what happened, bringing to mind the best bits of the detective sections in the Batman: Arkham games.
Your Legion comes into play while you investigate, as you can send it out to sneakily listen in on conversations from a distance, or to scan and analyze mysterious footprints. You need specific Legions to perform certain environmental actions, giving you a reason to go back to previous levels.
You’ll also stumble into optional crimes to resolve as you’re adventuring. In one scenario, I eavesdropped on a phone call to reveal and arrest a drug dealer. In another, I used my Legion’s Astral Chain to tie up a pair of people who were fighting in the streets. Overall, the game’s detective sections deliver some solid environmental puzzle-solving, and provide a nice break from the balletic hack-and-slashing.
Dripping with style
This shouldn’t come as a surprise from the folks behind Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, but Astral Chain is absolutely dripping with style. The game’s soundtrack alternates between cheery J-pop to intense EDM based on the occasion, and its neon-soaked, future-noir color palette is absolutely gorgeous. From the police station that serves as your hub, to the chimera-ravaged city streets and ephemeral alternate dimensions you’ll enter, every environment is distinct and detailed. Factor in the cel-shaded, anime-style character designs by manga artist Masakazu Katsura, and you’ve got one of the most striking Switch games yet.
My one major gripe with Astral Chain so far is that the dialogue is fairly dull. While the game’s cutscenes pack some truly gripping action sequences, they also deliver overly long, melodramatic conversations that I found myself wanting to skip. One particular scene that was meant to pack an emotional punch fell flat, due to writing and voicework that I had a hard time buying into. While I’m sold on the game’s story, which follows a police task force dubbed Neuron fighting to fend off a mysterious threat from another dimension, I wish I cared more about the characters.
So far, Astral Chain has been a pleasant surprise. It delivers a fresh twist on the stylish action I expect from a Platinum Games title, while also giving me a noir-detective adventure, which I didn’t know I wanted. I look forward to spending more time trouncing interdimensional monsters with my trusty Legion, so stay tuned for a full verdict closer to launch.