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Phantom Trigger: Neon Nightmares and Heaps of Hacking (and Slashing)

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It’s like the mirror of Erised, except I see nothing but more ways to kill people

Phantom Trigger is sadly not a non-existent trigger on a firearm, nor is it an action which causes an object to become ghostly, it is instead a hacky slashy game with RPG elements developed by Bread Games and published by tinyBuild.

Set in some kind of purgatory place, you play as a cyberpunk styled guy as he fights through stages, killing all in his wake and getting new and stronger abilities as you progress. You fight against a range of enemies, such as weird globe-headed mobs which try and thwack you with their big skulls, and tv-headed dudes who have some weird laser attack which you need to jump around.

To fight against the hordes of strange evil monsters, you have a few ‘weapons’ to fight back. You start off with a whip which you can use to pull enemies closer, and a teleporty-dash kind of thing to hop around the place. Before starting the game proper you are also given some ice cubes to punch with by a tree (it’s a very weird game). These ice cubes can be used to do combos of three attacks, and can be levelled up by using them and looking into strange mirrors.

After finishing a few stages of mobs, you are then given the flaming knuckles of some dead beast. These are slightly more powerful versions of your ice cubes, which can also do combos and also be leveled up. Aside from beating up enemies with ice cubes (so much for the tolerant left-click) there are also puzzles scattered in between stages, which involve standing on a button, memorising the series of green (whip) and blue (ice cubes) lights that flash up then replicate them for several rounds.

“We’re gonna surgically remove his head”

Now, Phantom Trigger is very hard, and it accomplishes this in a two fold manner. Firstly, your weapons do not do much damage, death is always nearby and you level up slowly, making the game exponentially harder the further in you play. Secondly, Phantom Trigger isn’t very well explained. For instance, take the ice cubes and the fire knuckles, the fire knuckles do slightly more damage than the ice cubes, and no reason for using the ice cubes is provided, or different strategies provided. The whip you have (to pull enemies nearby) appears to do damage to enemies, it kills flies and sometimes an enemy will die when grabbed. But this is not explained anywhere, there are no damage markers or  pop up when you use it, and there is no in game wiki to look this up. This all ends up with a game that, while Phantom Trigger has some enjoyable elements that could be very interesting if done correctly, is extremely tricky and hard to understand or really enjoy.

It’s like whack a mole, but more complicated

Phantom Trigger’s story is a weird one, intercutting gameplay with cutscenes showing Stan, the player character, dealing with a mysterious diagnosis. The graphics are suitably otherwordly to picture the strangeness of the story, and all the mobs look different, with their designs making it clear as to what they do. The mix of low density, pixelated sprites and high quality sprites works well to highlight the strangeness of the world, and overall just simply looks really good.

Phantom Trigger is an interesting title, it brings a lot to the table, a top down hack and slash cross RPG is an interesting idea and could be a good game, but it is let down by its incredibly challenging difficulty (even on the lower difficulty setting) and complete lack of tutorials. This absence of explanation risks making it an impenetrable mass of a game to the majority of owners.

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