I’m pretty big on independent film when I’m not playing and writing about games, and I’ve got a particular fondness for one particular “genre” of movie that’s popular with smaller filmmakers. I’m not sure if it’s got a name, but I’m talking about films that make you question what is and isn’t real; the film that really got me into movies was Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, which is a great example of what I’m talking about. You should check it out!
Bread Team’s Phantom Trigger aims for the same sort of feel by introducing two parallel plots that may or may not intersect, leading the player to question what’s actually going on.
Something’s wrong with Stan. One day while chatting with his wife over breakfast, he collapses; later, it’s discovered that he’ll need surgery to save his life. Health care being what it is, that’s not going to be cheap surgery, either. There’s two other options: medicate Stan so he’s comfortable until the end, or…something a little more experimental.
That’s not really the story, though. Here’s our story: a cloaked stranger arrives in a dark, twisted world, armed only with a whip. He needs to traverse the hostile wilds surrounding the only safe camp he knows of in this place; they’re swarming with mutants, cyborgs and all manner of other monstrosities. As the stranger explores, he grows stronger, obtaining more weapons, enhancing his arsenal, and…randomly flashing back to Stan and that experimental treatment, sometimes in the middle of combat. Is Stan real? Is the stranger real? Are they both real? Who knows?
Phantom Trigger is a top-down brawler with some light RPG elements. You play as the whip-wielding stranger as he explores the dark world searching for power and answers. Most of this involves walking into rooms full of baddies and wiping them out; you’ll use your whip, a sword obtained early on, and a set of knuckles obtained shortly thereafter to do so. Victory is all about maximizing the synergy between your different weapons; the whip does minimal damage, but it’s perfect for yanking baddies into position for some more damaging sword strikes. The knuckles, meanwhile, are slow and awkward, but proper timing allows you to land powerful blows that deal a lot of damage and knock down foes for a follow-up swording or whipping.
As you use your weapons and find special spots throughout the dark world, you’ll gain levels that enhance their strength and unlock new combo attacks. These are primarily used to introduce simple status effects like slowing enemies with the icy effects of the sword or burning them with the heat-enhanced knuckles. There’s not a lot of customization here; this is really the full extent of Phantom Trigger’s RPG elements, so don’t come in expecting top-down pixel-art Skyrim and chances are you’ll have a better time with the game. The gameplay in general is nice and snappy; learning to use your weapons properly feels good, as does taking out vastly overwhelming odds on your lonesome.
Assuming you’re not horribly sick of pixel art yet, and given indies’ proclivity to overuse it nobody could blame you if you were, you’ll probably appreciate Phantom Trigger’s presentation. The dark world segments are nice and stylish in a manner reminiscent of the recent Hyper Light Drifter, which is an interesting contrast with the more bland real-world segments; it’s also interesting to see characters from Stan’s world “adapted” into the stranger’s world and to note the parallels between the two as the plot progresses. Said plot certainly has an interesting conceit and Phantom Trigger takes it places, though the game concludes a little abruptly (there are multiple endings, to be fair) and there are some embarrassing typographical and grammar errors throughout the text-based plot segments.
Action fans who can overlook those quirks should enjoy Phantom Trigger, though. Again, I admit to a slight bias when it comes to this sort of mind-bending plot, so take that into consideration but I think the combat here is solid enough to merit playing the game even outside of that. Whipping enemies into shape before giving them a good stabbing doesn’t get old in the game’s 5-hour run time and at $15 or so it’s a pretty good value for what you’re getting.