A fractured sense of self.
Do you like the platforming levels in Mega Man? How about boosted difficulty levels? Or maybe you're just a video game masochist who likes frustration and agony? Then boy, do I have a game for you!
Fractured Soul isn't inherently a bad game by any stretch of imagination, and it has an innovative mechanic at its core. The game has the player moving through two simultaneous stages on the top and bottom screens of the 3DS, switching from one screen to the other (alternate dimension style) to get past obstacles or avoid enemy fire on one or the other screens. This shift accounts for the "fracture" of Fractured Soul.
This mechanic is further enhanced when the top screen version of the character begins to have different qualities or abilities, like one who moves as if through water or another for whom gravity is reversed. These sections play fundamentally like Mega Man stages with special atmospheric effects but with the option of switching back to a normal mode on the bottom screen whenever you get into too much trouble.
My favorite, which made for the most intense gameplay, features a version of the character whose environment was on fir, and had a limited amount of time he could be in that dimension before a meter would fill up and he would burn to death. This made for a tightly constructed level design to facilitate having to move back and forth in tight timeframes.
The levels were rounded out by a pair of light bullet-hell-style spaceship shooters that are reminiscent of early R-Type games, and a final boss that felt like the best of the 8-bit generation of sidescrolling action come back. The bullet-hell levels were slightly less successful but functionally nostalgic.
However, the side scrolling levels, which at first conjured a feeling of Mega Man's unforgiving-but-fair platforming soon lost the "but fair" part before moving straight into frustratingly awfully difficult, and then finally into the realm of game-breaking and stupidly, artificially increased difficulty.
Fractured Soul's worst excess in this are its sidescrolling platform levels and its final bullet-hell level, both which lack checkpoints anywhere within them. This gets particularly bad during a sidescrolling level where the character must keep up with a moving platform, and/or must run from a wall of energy that will disintegrate them. The lack of checkpoints in the level often mean that after failing later in the level, navigating back through it up to that point is a frustrating endeavor that leaves the player ill-prepared for learning the next section of the game. This is so bad, so ridiculous, that were I not reviewing the game for the site, I would have stopped playing and deleted it from my 3DS; it's a game-breaking feature.
This is too bad, because the general toughness of the platforming and shooting combat management is exhilarating. But at times that becomes too difficult, where having to manage both screens at once becomes, instead of an exciting seat-of-your-pants flipping from one to the other experience, a series of scenarios where movement between the two is more a matter of memorization of the correct pattern and then applying it. And while there’s a certain Contra-like element of that, it ultimately becomes work instead of play, with relief coming from success rather than satisfaction.
So while Fractured Soul has some good ideas and at times is a pleasant return to the tough standards of old-school gaming, it takes it to an excess that eventually breaks the game and undoes the good will of its nostalgic positives.