It's hard to know what to expect from a game with a title like Astral necklace. It is a name reminiscent of things like astrological and mysterious philosophy books. But in reality it is the latest release of Platinum Games, a studio that is best known for stylish action games such as Bayonetta, To overcome, and, more recently, Kidney: Automata, a collaboration with idiosyncratic director Yoko Taro. Astral necklace is full of exciting action scenes, but in most ways it is completely different from any other platinum game.
Really, it's different something I've played before. It is a cyberpunk police anime about an interdimensional invasion that combines action, puzzle solving, platforms and detective. There are plot threads about stray cats and the future of humanity, and your main weapon is a powerful being tied to you by a chain. Astral necklace consists of equal parts weird, exciting and endearing, and it is one of the most refreshing games of the year to date.
Astral necklace does not waste time. The opening titles roll past while you ride a motorcycle through a busy futuristic street, with explosions going around you. It is intense and exciting before you even know what you are doing. The game plays the role of one of two twins – you choose whether you play as the male or female brother or sister – who are part of an elite police force in Ark, a sci-fi megatropolis on a man-made island in a future where humanity is about to collapse. Oh, and the city is also being attacked: strange creatures called chimera keep appearing, attracted from what seems to be another dimension. It is a strange and often confusing set-up, but it also ensures that the game can constantly shift, allowing you to go to different places and do very different things.
The game is divided into a few different parts. There is the fight that has the style you would expect from a platinum title – even if you just press buttons, you look cool – but with a very specific twist. Helping you in battle are creatures called legions. They are a kind of cross between a pokémon and a weapon, and they are attached to your body with an ethereal chain that is always attached to your wrist.
You unlock multiple legions in the game, each with different skills and capabilities, and you can exchange and exchange them via a pop-up menu with a weapon wheel. One is actually a floating armor, while the other is a metal canine. You can throw them away in battle and they will fight autonomously. You can also merge attacks with the main character that you control. It takes some getting used to; driving two characters at the same time can sometimes be awkward, especially when a lot is happening. But it also helps to give Astral necklace a very different feeling.
At other points you will have to do your usual job as a cop, go into town to investigate everything from missing people to bombing the metro. You look for clues and talk to witnesses, and you are helped by an AR system that selects points for attention. You also get help from your legions. The dog-like creature can detect clues through scent and then dig things up, while the armor is strong enough to lift heavy objects from trapped victims. It's like having a partner who does what you say. They can even monitor problematic witnesses.
The game is spread over a handful of very different environments. In between missions you can hang out at the police station and train, change your outfit or relax in the break room and talk with a conscious machine. Most of the research series meanwhile take place in different districts of Ark, from shopping centers to city squares. And then there's the whole inter-dimensional threat that you regularly take into a glitchy world full of strange monsters, lots of platform sequences, and environmental puzzles that make use of the countless possibilities of your legion. There is a nice balance between intense, total action and the more cerebral moments.
In itself, none of these elements are what I would call great. The fight is interesting, but can sometimes feel uncomfortable. The platform and the puzzles are generally very simple and the surveys are linear, so it doesn't always feel like you're sorting things out yourself. But when you put them all together and jump in between them, it just feels good, making it easier to ignore the mistakes.
It helps that Astral necklaceThe world, however strange it may be, feels fully realized, filled with all kinds of smart world construction details. There are talking vending machines, holographic crosswalks that force you to obey the law, and cars that look like they're going to float above the street. The tone of the game fluctuates as often as the playing style. There are serious, melodramatic moments with death and destiny, but also light scenes with police mascots in dog costumes. One of the district's toilets is also being chased.
Astral necklace tries to be so many different things that it can be difficult to describe what it actually is. But that is also what makes it so interesting. It is flawed and confusing, sincere and exciting. It is something that you cannot put a label on, or a name that lets you know what you stand for.
Astral necklace is now available on the Nintendo Switch.