Whether it's a licensed game based on G1 Transformers or a series of fast-paced, high octane action games in Bayonetta, one word is synonymous with developer PlatinumGames: style.
Astral Chain is the latest original foray from the studio -- a stylish, flashy character action game exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. You play as an agent of the Neuron Police Force, quickly finding yourself embroiled in the organization's latest invention, Legion. In the world of Astral Chain, creatures called Chimeras have breached into the real world through dimensional gates, rendering it uninhabitable.
It's up to you, your brother Akira and a squad of other police officers to commander the chimeras as Legions and take the fight back to the creatures themselves, defending The Ark, humanity's artificial outpost, in the process.
As you'd expect, things might not be quite as they seem. Legion is kept under control by using a command cube and a digitized "chain." The handful of Legion types, not dissimilar to Stands from the popular anime, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, manifest themselves in the real world as companions to the player character. These types include Sword, Axe and Shield, among others, each with their own signature abilities.
You'll gain access to the entire catalog as the game progresses, as you use your Legion and other technology of the era to solve cases, close dimensional gates and learn more about the nature of the chimera. These mechanics make up the gameplay of Astral Chain outside of direct combat.
Each officer is equipped with IRIS, an augmented reality technology that will feel totally familiar if you've played any detective game in the last 15 years. With it, you can track chimera through The Ark and locate their whereabouts. Thankfully, the game rewards you for exploration, and if you spend the time looking around corners and taking on side cases, you'll be awarded with item drops and find tons of Red Matter, the lifeblood that fuels stamina for your Legion. You'll also have plenty of excuses to upgrade the abilities of your Legion.
Then there's the main component of Astral Chain: the action.
Enemy encounters can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be, not unlike PlatinumGames' Bayonetta series. The game has plenty of options for a range of players, including a selectable play-style that defaults to "casual," making pulling off combos that much easier. Basic attacks from your player character are mapped to the right trigger, which you'll use to chip away at enemies with a baton, sword or blaster.
You'll summon your Legion with the right trigger and hold it in, moving the right stick to free control them. They'll move on their own if you don't and automatically start attacking enemies in the field. Don't want to mess around with advanced mechanics unless forced to? You don't have to. But you'll want to.
You see, the chain present between you and the Legion helps make for one of the most interesting combat mechanics in the genre. The chain acts as its own weapon, and you can use your Legion to circle enemies at their legs or torso, complete a circle and actually bind them in chains. This stifles them, making it easy to lay the hurt on and get some damage in.
Similarly, enemies that launch at you can be slingshotted back by positioning the chain as a slingshot. This kind of interactivity makes the game less about just having a cool co-op partner in combat encounters and more about actually using the dynamic bond to your advantage.
Of course, the game can't just let you run wild with all of this, so Legion are locked to a stamina meter you'll want to keep an eye on. You can disappear your Legion with the right bumper and its stamina will quickly recharge, but if you leave them out too long and it drops to zero, you'll have to wait until the entire meter recharges. Finding Red Matter in the environment will help top off the meter and keep it above its max of 100.
Aside from all of this, you're also equipped with a dash and the ability to dodge enemy attacks at the last moment, which results in a slowdown, perfect for repositioning to maximize damage. For example, the sword Legion can "cut through" enemy currents, which will appear during slowdown on some enemies. This mechanic, similar to Raiden's in Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, is just one of a handful of Legion abilities you'll get your hands on as you switch between types throughout the game. These include riding on the back of the Beast legion for traversal or firing arrows for some long distance damage with the aptly named Arrow type.
On top of the many gameplay mechanics, Astral Chain also runs quite well on the Switch, both docked and in handheld mode, and looks very good. PlatinumGames did the absolute most with the tech in Nintendo's latest console, and you'll see things like particle effects, unique lighting techniques and a great use of HD rumble throughout. At its best, Astral Chain is visually on par with the most impressive games on the Switch and will certainly amaze you when you least expect it.
There's also the welcome addition of co-op to Astral Chain, which makes it easy for a friend to jump in with a Joy-Con and control a Legion while you control the main character. Though, in surprising enough fashion, Astral Chain works best as a game played solo, because the unique combat really only feels unique if you're balancing both the player and Legion together.
With another stellar character action game in the books, the sky continues to be the limit with PlatinumGames. Whatever's next, one can only hope that quality stays as consistent as its past few releases. Until then, there's plenty to work through and explore in Astral Chain.
Astral Chain is now available on the Nintendo Switch. A review copy was provided by the publisher.