There is nothing like a good fantasy RPG. A game that requires time, effort, and skill to combine itself into an unforgettable adventure for the player. What makes a similar game stand out from another? We’ve seen countless fantasy RPGs throughout the years, some trying to leap over the others, and others that reside in the shadow of those more successful.
The common elements, themes, and combat systems are rehashed each time for a new yet familiar experience. How much can a game remind you of something that you actually start to miss the other game? I’m not sure it if was intentional or not but if you are a fan of Dark Souls and you are looking to play a similar experience on the Switch, then Mortal Shell is the game for you.
Developed by Cold Symmetry and published by Playstack, Mortal Shell was initially released in 2020 and then again in 2021 for the next-gen consoles. Running on Unreal Engine 4, the game was considered a sleeper hit despite its low budget and Souls-like experience. With stunning visuals, a unique character selection, and a grinding upgradable combat system, the game was a well approved surprise for most of its players.
Upon the rising success of the game, a port version was then made for the Nintendo Switch, which also came as a complete edition. Now curiously, I was wondering how the game’s Unreal Engine graphics would compare to the Switch version, and whether even playing the game on the Switch would do it any justice.
The gameplay revolves around you playing as a Foundling. A semi-demonic form of a being that has the ability to harden (or turn to stone) briefly in combat. After going through a bit of a tutorial experience, you are thrown into a dark and grey reality where the bodies of fallen warriors are scattered throughout the land. Upon finding a body you are able to inhabit it as a shell and assume its form in combat.
Each shell comes with its own set of assets for combat. If you take too much damage you are thrown from your mortal shell and must hold your own in the Foundling form. Much of the game is played through collecting and learning from your environment. Messages and items to read will give you more information, as well as the character bodies you inhabit. Aside from that, the game will feel almost aimless and vacant as you search for a purpose in your journey.
The combat is probably the most grueling and meticulous aspect of this game. You have to be very precise with your attacks, dodging, and hardening. The hardening is pretty much your blocking system and it requires you to time the attacks and turn to stone just as you are about to be struck.
This may take some time to get used to, and after numerous deaths, I began to realize that this combat system requires the utmost focus and understanding. If you are someone that craves this kind of combat then this game might provide you with the challenge you are looking for. There are all sorts of enemies to battle against as well, including tough boss battles that will feel like real victories once defeated.
The game intends to create a rich environment based on lore and the snippets of info that you find, but I found myself wanting to rush past enemies and meandering aimlessly just to get my footing in the story. I believe this game to be a good foundation for future installments if they can fix some of the emptiness and lack of complete originality. Everyone that plays this game will compare it to Dark Souls, and if I were a developer I’m sure that comparison would start to get annoying.
As for the gameplay on the Switch in comparison, I believe you are better off playing this on a console or PC if you have one. The graphics on the Switch made me feel like I was playing a PSP game from 2004. The frame rate got a little weird as I would pan the camera, and the whole grueling combat system didn’t translate too well onto the Switch. However, I could see this being a challenge and for people that love this kind of thing and want it to be portable, by all means, suffer through the adventure.
Another aspect was the sound design. The sound of the armor on the ground was so constant and ear-cringing that it took away from so much of the immersive experience. The lack of music and the crunchy sounds emitting from the Switch did the game no justice. Playing the game on a console almost feels like an entirely different experience and I don’t want to take too much away from this game. I just believe the Switch version to be a watered-down shell of this game.
Overall, it was definitely an interesting experience and it taught me a lot about my own patience and desire to grind and find meaning within a game that gives very little. I will say this is a great start and I look forward to playing more games from this developer in the future.
I’ll add that not all games should have a Switch version, it might do more harm to the brand than intended, especially one whose success was also partially due to its stunning graphics. If you have the hard shell required to play this game, it is now available on the Nintendo Switch for $29.99.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Mortal Shell: Complete Edition for the Nintendo Switch provided by Cold Symmetry and Playstack.