Have you ever had a song that just didn’t click for you until you heard a remix? For me it’s the Glitch Mob remix of Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. I like the original well, but something about that version just hits right. Feel free to blast my terrible taste in music in the comments! It’s not just the slightly Hummer musical analogy that makes me think of cassette Beasts remixes. Its similarities to Pokémon are so obvious that it can’t just be placed in a broader monster battler genre, yet there’s still enough new and fresh and different to make it more than just a cover or homage. And while I love Pokémon, I love Cassette Beasts.
The game begins with you accidentally stranded on New Wirral, a mysterious Arthurian isle bound to both time and a particular version of our reality. The human inhabitants of New Wirral arrived from different times and versions of Earth, arriving on its shores a little over a century before the game’s present. They quickly discovered that they were not the only living beings on the island, with dozens of different monsters roaming its environs. Shortly before your arrival, it was discovered that these monsters could be recorded on regular old cassette tapes which would allow the carrier to convert to them. Pretty cool setup to fight some monsters, eh?
Pokémon effects are displayed front and center. The game’s flashy visuals are the most obvious example, with sprites that look like they’ve been fired up with red and blue paint and a fresh lick of 2023 paint. Start a fight and you will see that the main game elements are present and correct. You have a team of up to six monsters that can level up and evolve into different forms. Battles are turn-based, with each turn allowing you to use a monster’s move or an item. There are different elemental types with different strengths and weaknesses when pitted against each other. Heck, you even have to find and fight several gym leads… sorry, ranger captain, and collect their stamps of approval on a small card.
What makes Cassette Beasts great is that while it draws on most of the existing templates of Pokémon, it’s not too much to behold for the sake of it. You’re almost always fighting with a partner who draws from the same team of six that you do, so you immediately have a wider range of strategy available. Type advantages and disadvantages do more than just make attacks stronger and weaker, interactions of different elements can provide status effects and even temporarily change a target’s type. My favorite is to use fire attacks against the plastic type. The first attack will melt the plastic, turning it into poison, making it highly flammable, so further attacks of fire will ignite the poison, applying the burn condition. Helpfully, the first time you see a particular interaction, a pop-up will pop up explaining the logic behind it, which I found pretty easy to remember, although you can check the type chart in your inventory at any time. Are.
The same refreshing perspective can be seen as you navigate the island. Recording certain monsters will give you permanent access to new abilities, such as field moves in Pokémon, although they are tied to your character, so there’s no need to have that monster on your team. What’s different here is the island itself, which is completely open, with no set paths or routes, so your newfound movement abilities are more reminiscent of a 2D Legend of Zelda title. The combination of these abilities, such as dashing and gliding, with simple object manipulation allows you to solve puzzles and navigate dungeons. I didn’t find this side of things overly taxing, it’s just that there’s a sense of satisfaction you get when you figure out a tricky solution.
Speaking of moves, each monster can have up to eight, including both active and passive effects. Moves do not need to be permanently changed, instead they take the form of stickers placed on the cassettes that hold the monster forms. When you switch out a move, the existing sticker is removed and placed in your album for later use. This allows a lot of scope for customizing and tweaking the build, without the need for tedious grinding. Nor are you limited in how many times you can use a move with a rest in between. Cassette Beasts instead uses an action point system, in which each turn yields two action points that can be spent on weaker moves or saved for more powerful moves.
On top of all that, you also have the ability to merge two monsters into one during battle. Each companion character in the game has an initial quest that will allow you to fuse with them, combining them into a giant monster. Combined form gains move, type, and action points from both monsters as well as increased stats, but allows you to make only one move each round instead of two. As well as being a single large target for your opponents, this downside means that this isn’t always the best course of action, as you become more vulnerable to negative status effects.
Of all the deviations from the standard Pokémon formula, the one I appreciate most is that Cassette Beasts isn’t forced to cater to young children. While I wouldn’t call the learning curve steep by any means, it features more interesting mechanics at a faster pace than an elementary school kid’s first game of Pokémon is likely to allow, which definitely caught me off guard. helped in More importantly, the protagonist and most of the characters you interact with are actually adults, which is a breath of fresh air in a game like this. Of course media aimed at children can be entertaining for adults, but I’m quite beyond certain that a game where my avatar is a literal child is going to represent me or my interests.
Cassette Beasts is the Pokémon game you grew up with. I’m not saying it’s a work of startling maturity and overwhelming intellectualism, but it’s not condescending. It makes jokes about estate agents and philosophers. This ’90s shopping mall aesthetic and material mixtape enjoys, ironically or otherwise. It has read books that are not in the young adult section! It figures most prominently in the game’s main plot about leaving the island, a quest that requires hunting numerous archangels, boss demons that embody the negative elements of the human psyche and is depicted in a variety of art styles. are presented so that they can be expressed. Reality-warping power, a visual trick that will always get a thumbs up from me.
My earlier invocation of the Arthurian legend was not accidental. The Archangel, like many of the demons and other elements of the game, draws from literature, history and folklore, mostly from the British Isles. It’s nice, playing something that is very much a product of Britain, without all the obnoxious jingoism and whatnot that often accompanies such things. Cassette Beasts is unashamedly British, but it’s also quirky, anti-capitalist and multicultural, and it’s a combination we don’t see often enough.
It would be incredibly remiss of me to review a game called Cassette Beasts without mentioning the music, which is absolutely lovely. I especially enjoy how the theme switches between vocal and instrumental versions in the island’s main settlement of Harbortown as you go in and out of buildings.
I’m really struggling to find anything negative to say about Cassette Beasts. It crashed once in over twenty hours of play, but that’s all. If you are a fan of pokemon then you definitely need to play this game and even if you are not, I want to spread the word for it. Cassette Beasts is a lesson in how to make a game that’s delightful, comfortable, and nostalgic without being condescending to your adult audience.
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