TinyBuild Games has a bit of a history with me, mainly when it comes to whether or not I can truly enjoy any of the titles that it gets in its stable. But alas, there always seems to be something about the ones I've played that make me feel like I'll need to keep searching for one that will completely satisfy me. And with Phantom Trigger, it appeared that it might have what I want. The only problem is, its balance of difficulty and checkpoint system are an experience that's fraught with frustration.
Phantom Trigger is about a man who is talking with his wife, when he suddenly passes out and is rushed to the hospital. The game immediately shifts to an unusual-looking individual who appears to be in the Underworld. After some time moving around, you are tasked with reaching a destination, with a whip and an ice sword at your side. The idea is that you are the man whose soul is fighting to save their body from whatever illness that they have, while under an experimental surgery that pretty much leaves the protagonist's mind and reality, in flux.
As for gameplay, it makes use of the face buttons to fight enemies with your sword, and you can use the whip both to bring enemies close to you, destroy obstacles, or solve color based puzzles. Later on, you'll also get the ability to use knuckles for similar purposes to the whip and sword. The game actually doesn't have a tutorial or manual, so you'll have to mess around to discover that you can combine your second attack with the same weapon with either your dash or whip to produce various types of attacks for your third strike. Being stationary can activate ice or fire circles that slow or burn your enemies. The ice sword can also be extended to freeze an enemy, or you can leave a fire or ice dash behind you that has more reach than the circle attack. You'll also level up these attacks by using them or collect experience in alcoves off of the beaten path.
Phantom Trigger seems to be one, big never-ending dungeon, where the monotony is broken up by showcasing the developments that happened in the real world before this point. It's an interesting concept with a story that I was invested in, but the game's crippling artificial difficulty and terrible checkpoint system keep me from seeing more. The game seems to think throwing a ton of enemies at you is something that makes it more difficulty than actually being more challenging by having enemies having different attack patterns.
On top of this, the checkpoints in the game activate only once, so there might be a long stretch where if you die at any point, you'll start back way back at the last point. Not only might that moment be too far from your previous save, all the stuff you did up to that point will also be undone. This is hard when there's a situation where there are puzzles that, if you fail and have to fight enemies, the puzzle will never end. On top of that, you'll miss out on experience or some collectible, despite the level of difficulty selected. If the game had fixed the parts where picking up experience and collectible got recorded, maybe I wouldn't mind as much. However, the game's handling of checkpoint makes for repeating sequences over and over again tiresome. Sadly, that makes Phantom Trigger a total pass.
The Good: The visual style is neat, and the story is a bit interesting.
The Bad: It's way too easy to get overwhelmed.
The Ugly: The checkpoint system is pretty awful with the way it works.
SUMMARY: Phantom Trigger could have been an interesting dungeon crawling beat-em-up, but it's a bit too difficult for its own good.
Promotional consideration provided by Alex Nichiporchik of TinyBuild Games. Reviewed on the Xbox One.
Eric is a freelance writer and has a podcast called RPGrinders, and you can support their Patreon page here.