The end of the world has come again! Seriously, the Earth has it pretty bad when it comes to games. It’s always in danger or actively being destroyed. You’d think we’d all just find somewhere else to live, but that tends to go poorly as well, what with the space zombies, xenoplagues and such that always seem to pop up. Still, if it’s the only home you’ve got, sometimes you have to deal and hope that somebody can help – that’s what we see in Astral Chain, an action game that’s all about the helping.
The Ark, a man-made island, is all that’s left of humanity after an incursion from the Astral Plane. The denizens of this dimension, the Chimera, are fond of kidnapping and corrupting humans, and the gates they enter and leave from have steadily torn the world apart. The Ark’s in a bad way due to this and internal forces like crime and corruption alike, so it’s up to the police to keep things under control…but it takes more than a regular cop to deal with the Chimera problem. It takes the Neuron force, supercops that use Legatus devices to control tame Chimera known as Legions.
Legions are tied to your character via the Astral Chain, which is both the game’s namesake and the central point of its combat. Your cop’s got a form-changing X-Baton that can swap from nightstick, sword and gun forms, and they’re able to do a fair amount of damage but can also be harmed by taking enemy attacks directly. Meanwhile, the Legion they’re chained to can take a number of forms of its own, ranging from a swordsman to a brawler to a wolf, and these are somewhat more powerful and immune to direct damage, but they’re also limited by an overheat gauge that forcibly unsummons them over time.
The ideal, then, is all about teamwork. Summoning and unsummoning your Legion as appropriate will keep you free from damage and the Legion free from overheating. Meanwhile, you’ll maximize your own damage by using team attacks and Legion skills; you can even keep enemies locked down by using your Legion to tangle them up in your Astral Chain. What’s more, each Legion form has its own special abilities to use in and out of combat, like slicing through energy transmissions or serving as a suit of battle armor.
It takes a little getting used to since to some degree you’re controlling two characters simultaneously, but once you get the hang of things Astral Chain is a fantastic time. It gets even better when you consider that you can customize and upgrade your character and Legion to a significant degree, allowing you to make changes according to your preferred playstyle. Given the variety of Chimera and the various tactics you’ll need to use to defeat them, it behooves you to learn fast; fast foes, flying foes and armored foes are all going to need their own form of TLC from you and your Legion alike.
Astral Chain is a Switch exclusive, and that’s not the most powerful console around. That means that the game has to get by with a stylized aesthetic rather than sheer horsepower. Fortunately, that works out pretty well here, leading Astral Chain to look and play like an anime while running acceptably throughout whether docked or in handheld mode. Framerate drops do occur, but they’re not especially common and never spoil the experience. Meanwhile, sound and music are fantastic, especially the music, which is a variety of diverging takes on a single leitmotif that appears throughout the game.
Platinum Games’ penchant for solid and engrossing action games shines forth in Astral Chain. There’s a lot going on and perseverance might require a little practice, but time and patience will show that this one’s a winner. With a decent run time and plenty of incentive to go back and replay completed levels in search of secrets and higher combat rankings, it’s a cyberpunk inspired good time and easily one of the best Switch exclusives around.