Phantom Trigger Review (Switch/PC) – “Worlds Collide”

Phantom Trigger is the latest indie to hit the Nintendo Switch courtesy of TinyBuild and Bread Games. This pixelart, top-down hack-and-slash, or “neon slasher” as the developer calls it, has you slashing, whipping and punching vile creatures through various environments. Is this hack-and-slash worth the experience?

Phantom Trigger has you start off playing as Stan, an ordinary human being who is married and trying to get through life. Things take a turn for the worse very quickly though, as Stan collapses on the kitchen floor in front of his wife. Suddenly, you will play as a different character known as the “Traveler” in a fictitious world that has zero semblance of reality. This distorted world has you meeting outlandish characters, each of which help hint at what is going on. As you progress, the game will instantly switch from gameplay in the distorted world, to seeing what is happening with Stan in the real world. There are times when you will choose the dialogue for both characters to carry a tone and weight to the story. Certain items you collect and how you utilize them will also affect the ending. While it doesn’t take long to realize what is really going on here, the premise is really intriguing. Phantom Trigger’s story is by far its main highlight. It’s a very engaging story that tackles a fairly important struggle in reality.

The game is a hack-and-slash at its core with some RPG elements in place. Playing as the Traveler, you will wield three weapons in hand: an ice sword, energy whip, and fire gauntlets. You can do three-hit combos, and each hit will garner XP for the weapon used. Each weapon is mapped to the face buttons and accessible at all times. As you level up your weapons, you will unlock various mix-and-match combos that will help when dealing with groups of foes. Certain combos may provide an elemental attack that can freeze enemies in place, burn them gradually, or even draw enemies in upon a small blast. Also, the Traveler has the ability to teleport dash, whether for dodging during combat or simply to move around faster. As you progress through the game, enemies will ramp up in numbers and variety. You will feel the combat intensifying the further you progress. If things get too hectic for you, you can always grab a buddy to play local co-op together. There are times when you can breeze past combat, but several segments where the environment will be sealed around you, forcing you to defeat everyone before advancing.

When you’re not fighting for your survival, you will be scouring the environment finding obscure items and solving puzzles. This does help break up the combat a bit. The items collected will seem odd or even out-of-place, but by the end, they are there for a reason. There are occasionally shrines you will come across as well that will boost your XP for specific weapons. Each weapon can reach up to level 7, which is the max. By the end of the game, you will have maxed out all three wielded weapons without any issue or unnecessary grind (unless of course you didn’t mix up your combat). Certain areas will require some minor puzzle-solving to open locked doors. This can consist of playing essentially “Simon Says” by hitting totems in a right order with the right colored ability, or moving a mine cart around a maze of tracks to collect a specific item. It does help break up the pacing of the game. Also, the end of each level has you facing a boss. These boss battles will require your wits and thinking outside the box to solve. The bosses are actually well-done for the most part, but one particular boss will really have you scratching your head that resulted in pure luck to figure out. Upon beating the game, there’s an Arena mode to unlock, which is basically an endurance mode.

Phantom Trigger does have some issues unfortunately that do hurt the overall package. First off, the game’s initial load time takes almost one minute just to get to the main menu. That is a very lengthy loading time, especially where it’s just a single image to look at that would make you think the game froze. Second, there are several times during dialogue sequences where some of the words are misspelled. Third, the framerate takes quite a hit during combat, specifically in the second half of the game where there are significantly more enemies on-screen. Third, there are some collision detection glitches that occurred. There were two times when I was able to run through a wall. There was a combat sequence where I was closed off from escaping, yet I was able to run right through the barrier. This segment I tested a few times and it was always the same spot and barrier I could run through. There’s a segment with a mine-cart that shows the cart continuing off the track and out of the level entirely. What’s strange is if you run in the opposite direction and then run back to where the mine-cart should’ve stopped, it will magically appear there. Thankfully this is a glitch that fixes itself, but happened almost every other time the mine-cart hit a corner it was supposed to stop at. Now the game features four different endings, which means you’ll need to replay the game a few times to see each ending (should you make the right choices). Unfortunately, there is no New Game + mode to make it easier to return to. Combat is neat and all, but it does get repetitive after a short while. Also, the game’s checkpoint system is a bit flawed. I’m all for challenging games, but checkpoints are very easy to bypass here, and dying can set you back upwards to ten minutes of progress. May not sound like a lot, but it adds up when you keep dying in the same spot. Lastly, the level designs can be maze-like, and there is no map system what-so-ever. While checkpoints usually direct you on where to go, it’s very easy to find yourself going in circles or getting lost.

Visually, Phantom Trigger is a nicely detailed pixel-art title. Animations are pretty smooth for all the characters, and the environments all have a specific style to them. The game runs at 60 fps…well, it tries to but ends up dropping closer to 30 fps most of the time. It doesn’t make the game unplayable by any means, but the drops were very noticeable and consistent. Audio wise, the soundtrack that is here accompanies the game decently, but nothing that stood out. Honestly, the music takes a backseat for most of the experience. Sound effects on the other hand do a great job of distinguishing the combat. Each attack from the weapons have a distinct, almost musical, tone to them. Even the audio that plays when you get closed off in an encounter just sounds very cool. I just wish the soundtrack stood out more during the game.

Overall, Phantom Trigger is a neat game that tells a gripping plot. The story alone was the driving factor to see where it was going next. In terms of gameplay, what is here is solid, but certainly repetitive. Couple that with some technical issues and odd game design decisions, and it just feels like a little more time was needed to polish it up. It’s a good game that’s worth your time for its story, but it was hard to return to upon completing it.

Overall Score: 6.5 out of 10 = Wait for a price drop…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Phantom Trigger! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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