Cassette Beasts review: Not just another Pokémon clone
Cassette Beasts will have you jumping back into 80s nostalgia with its turn-based creature-collecting gameplay.
The gimmick of Cassette Beasts is that you can 'record' monsters on your cassette tape to learn their form, which you can then use to turn into the monsters and fight in the game.
Comparisons to Pokémon are unavoidable of course, but where Cassette Beasts sets itself apart is with their intriguing storyline, retro-meets-modern art style and unique music fusion system.
- If you're a fan of retro games and roguelikes, also check out our review of Wildfrost here.
What's Wirral got to do with it?
From the get-go, you play as a person marooned on the island of New Wirral, a strange land filled with people who fight monsters with cassette tapes.
As you talk to more people, you'll realise you're in an in-between plane of existence that has collected people from all kinds of other worlds and times, not everything is as it seems and everyone is trapped there, unable to return to their own lands.
With the party line of 'don’t think too much about it', once you accept the general premise the game becomes infinitely more enjoyable.
New Wirral is split between opposing groups of people, the rangers who keep the peace and fight monsters and the cultists who worship the Archangels, a rare and powerful number of monsters who are more god-like than beast.
One such Archangel fuses itself with you with the promise of showing you the way out of New Wirral in return for helping it return to its former glory.
This is the main storyline of Cassette Beasts, but as you explore and talk to villagers there are numerous side quests you can play, which will improve your relationship with companions and strengthen your fusion abilities.
Sweet monster o'mine
One of Cassette Beasts' most impressive features are the beasts themselves, with plenty of memorable character designs. Monsters like the Pombomb are either adorably goofy or cool to look at, in a creature-collecting game this is a vital component that must be done right.
Monsters are simply named monsters, and each belongs to one of 15 elements. Elements are strong or weak against other elements, inflicting elemental abilities in battle will result in status effects which can be added for critical buffs.
There's a handy bestiary that you can check in the middle of battles which will inform you of which elements work well against each other, making combat a relatively pain-free learning process.
Again, this will inevitably draw comparisons to Pokémon and other creature-collecting games. Cassette Beasts can be a great alternative however if the latest, more modern instalments of Pokémon were not to your liking and you're searching for something to scratch that nostalgia itch.
Cassette Beasts can provide an effective entry point for people that perhaps have not played Pokémon or other creature capture games and are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Pokémon out there now.
Along with the element system, Cassette Beasts offers you the chance to evolve monsters once they have gained a five-star rating. Like other mechanics of the game, they use music terms to signify this. Evolving a monster is called a 'remaster' of your original recording and you must add 'stickers' on your cassette to add unique combat moves to your loadout.
The music terminology, like the rest of the game, is a gimmick but one that works to establish its own identity in the crowded market.
Girls just wanna have choices
On you're Cassette Beasts travels, you'll encounter various villagers, some of which can be recruited as companions. As you raise the friendship levels with your companion you can unlock more powerful fusion abilities.
The 'fusion' system is where you can meld together with your companion in a battle to form one monster of a higher power. The interesting thing about this system is that it creates a new monster shape depending on which two are fused together.
With over 100 different monster types in Cassette Beasts, this leaves hundreds of possible combinations, all with original artwork.
There are also 'bootlegs' in the world, which are effectively Pokémon shinies, monsters that are a copy of another but in a different colour or element type. If you're the type of person that has to collect them all, it will keep you occupied for hours upon hours.
Sweet dreams (are made of monsters)
Like other creature-capture games, you'll encounter many monsters on your journey. These monsters will run to you and try to battle you every chance they get.
This can get wearisome after a while when you're trying to finish quests. Whilst there is a 'flee' mechanic, this is tied to a percentage chance, meaning the more powerful the monster the less likely the flee option will work.
There are also many people dotted around the map who will also try to battle you, these interactions are almost impossible to skip and when you're trying to uncover a large area of the map it can be time-consuming because of these forced battles.
The map itself can be frustrating at times, as it plays a little like a Metroidvania - there are several platforms and levels on the map that are inaccessible unless you solve environmental puzzles. These can be very vague, and you can easily become stuck without prompts, especially at the beginning of the game when everything feels just a little out of reach.
Once you figure out the environment it can be rewarding depending on how long you spent on the puzzle. Certain switches will change airflow so you can levitate to other platforms, these are sometimes hidden in caves, bushes, and other scenery.
When you do get some downtime away from questing, you can rest at campfires. This will restore any broken tapes you have (monsters in your collection which have been defeated in battle). Instead of putting in a little animation or a black screen, often your companion will share stories with you during these moments which is a lovely touch.
Cassette Beasts feels very genuine. Whilst you can tell where the inspiration for certain choices has come from, the soundtrack, characters and story are all entertaining and heartfelt in a way that separates it from being just another Pokémon clone.
Whilst the retro 80s design feels like a comforting warm blanket, the game isn’t afraid of inflicting a tonal shift into more Undertale-like otherworldly horror.
You'd be forgiven for getting distracted in the gameplay loop of adventuring and collecting cute beasts, but underneath is a compelling and much more sinister story waiting to come out.
Reviewed on PC, code provided by the publisher.