3Souls is a curious one. Red Column’s three-part episodic game carries us to Mustland, a world not unlike our own in that it shares many things in common.
It has a moon, flowers, cities, and rules. The world’s people are known as Ánimas, their peculiar appearance largely being due to the Masks that they must wear. These act as a life support to protect their Souls, which move more freely than our own in floating around their owner like a celestial light. The Souls reveal their owner’s innermost thoughts and feelings, a coloured emotional barometer that will show when they are scared, surprised, or angry at the situations that they find themselves in.
Those emotions are running high in this first episode, in which we follow Nelesa’s tale. Locked away in Moon Prison for breaking an unknown rule, she escapes confinement when a meteor conveniently collides with the wall next to her cell. With the player’s assistance, Nelesa searches for the reason behind her imprisonment, and, ultimately, to secure her freedom.
As a puzzle-platformer, that sees Red Column draw on Nintendo’s own bag of tricks. The Wii U GamePad is presented as a special tool, created by people from our world to connect to those in Nelesa’s. The mirror at its centre will reveal what an Ánima is thinking and feeling, while you can keep track of collectable Mustland Rules and Memories gathered on your journey.
It is the chance to ‘Connect’ with Mustland that results in seeing the unique elements that 3Souls has to offer. Whether blowing into the microphone to activate fans, moving CCTV cameras with the accelerometer and gyroscope to uncover hidden platforms, snapping colours in the real-world with the camera to unlock doors, or scanning QR Codes to discover codes to open a nearby safe, Red Column has worked hard to demonstrate everything that still allows the Wii U to deliver a standout gameplay experience.
That being said, 3Souls‘ first episode is riddled with imperfection. The puzzles, while imaginative in the ways that they require the GamePad, can often leave the player frustrated. That can be seen in the imprecision when rotating the GamePad to unlock safes, often under unkind time pressure with patrolling enemies threatening to kill you. Issues are also particularly evident when CCTV cameras are used to spot hidden platforms, especially those that move. You lose visibility on these as soon as you step away from the camera, and are, therefore, left to guess where the shifting platforms are. That results in needless deaths, which soon annoys given that you only have three lives. It’s unforgiving, and not in a good way.
Red Column rolled out a patch to address this, the most significant change being that players were no longer required to restart the entire level when they hit the Game Over screen. Instead, you can choose to return to your last checkpoint, losing all Memories and Mustland Rules that you have collected so far. That is an unfair punishment in itself, especially when the difficulty can feel so imbalanced.
With an enchanting soundtrack and commendable voicework, Red Column has achieved a relatively solid foundation in their first 3Souls episode. Daring to go beyond what we see with most Nintendo eShop developers, it is a release with promise – even if it isn’t without its problems.