Sorry you have to hear it like this, but in Soul Power you’re dead. You’ll have to accept that.
Embrace your new form – after all, it’s not without its perks. You see, in this independently-developed Android game you play as a fresh spirit, new to the world of the afterlife. You’ll quickly realise that you can float, teleport, and explore the memories of other ghosts – and this is where you develop your new purpose. You set out to help others to come to terms with their deaths, and in the process learn something about the nature of life and death yourself.
Ghosts and their demons
As you roam around the ethereal realm of the dead, troubled spirits visibly shake, often unintelligibly babbling about their traumas when spoken to. These ghosts open portals, and by exploring within and collecting their memories you can help them to explore and overcome their issues, while learning something about their deaths. Often it’s grimly comedic – a fatal pickle-eating contest claimed the life of one such spirit. Other times it’s somewhat more tragic – there’s the subtly heart-rending tale of a spirit who died at 97, and still, even in this realm, panics about where he has left his teeth. Darker still is the account of a spirit who has a distinct memory of a woman’s name – Vanessa – but can’t remember if it belonged to his mother, his murderer, or both. Yikes.
The writing is largely solid, and nicely understated despite the premise – it would’ve been very easy to veer towards pretension when discussing such lofty topics, but Koenig avoids this well. One area in which Soul Power does frustrate is in its self-referential nature – there are characters that mention they played a lot of video games before they died, and one who even refers to ‘Spirit Strength’, a game they enjoyed in life and a clear parallel to Soul Power itself. While inoffensive, it’s just slightly heavy-handed, and not as subtly clever as it thinks it is. I’m nitpicking here though, and I can’t see anyone’s enjoyment being seriously affected by this.
As for the controls… well, it’s a tricky one. When they work, they work really nicely. Everything is nice and simple – two direction buttons on either side of the screen, which activate an upward float when held together. It’s really quite an elegant touchscreen control scheme. The only issue is that it’s too rigid. The virtual buttons offer no leeway, so jabbing your thumbs on the margins to the left or right of the button can result in a lack of response. It’s frustrating, and feels a little outdated in a time when many Android developers offer up more accommodating virtual control methods.
When it comes to the main meat of the gameplay, the retrieval of memories, it’s simple enough. Using the aforementioned floating controls, you soak up recollections dotted around the level to jog the memories of these ghosts. The more souls you assist, the more worlds you can open up, the more tales you hear, and the further you can progress. Collecting the memories is a time-based challenge, which tests your floating manoeuvrability in tightly packed stages, and sometimes with tough obstacles. There’s a score mulitplier which rewards you incrementally for salvaging memories in a combo, without touching the ground in-between. For the perfectionists out there, these stages can be replayed at any time from the main menu – a nice touch.
From a gameplay standpoint, Soul Power is far from groundbreaking. However, the mysterious, sometimes spooky atmospherics of the afterlife, the subtly affecting writing, and a soundtrack which comfortably swings from moody atmosphere-building to a more funky, upbeat flavour in a heartbeat all make this a worthwhile experience. At its low price, it’s a game with big ideas – perhaps not ideas which have been entirely successful in their execution, but nonetheless ideas which are extremely interesting to behold, and deserve to be rewarded.