Games rarely manage to stay in one lane nowadays. This isn’t a complaint, more of an observation. It becomes a badge of pride for a developer to say that their new title is strictly one kind of game, tacking on extra labels like “old school” or “hardcore” to make sure you know that the game you’ve just downloaded/bought is going to be only a shooter, only a platformer, only a fighter. But a vast majority of devs, both indie and big name, want to branch out and offer so much more. That’s why nearly every RPG also has a crafting element to it now, or why even the most pixel-based title also has undercurrents of a visual novel. Hell, even the recent success of Fit Boxing adds in a rhythm game aspect. So when 13AM promised a game with action platforming, upgrade customization, investigation mechanics AND a clever move system, I was…hesitant. Yet I can say, confidently, that Double Cross manages to keep all the plates spinning, just at different times.
RIFT is an organization that does its best to keep peace with all of the multiverses. You see, the different universes and realities just stack on top of one another, and, sometimes, things go awry and stuff ends up where it shouldn’t. Agent Zahra is one of the most promising new recruits to RIFT, and it becomes her job to track down a strange, unknown adversary who broke into RIFT headquarters and stole something valuable…and quite dangerous. It seems that this “Suspect X” is not only very crafty, but also has unique info specific to the RIFT organization, meaning he (or she) is someone on the inside. If Zahra can’t discover the truth about how this villain managed to unite several dimensions in this grand caper, it could spell certain doom for RIFT, the dimensions, and possibly further.
You should know that Double Cross is divided into three distinct elements: the adventuring, the researching, and boss fights. The boss fights come at the tail end of everything, so don’t worry too much about those, as they are very cool and memorable, but, ultimately, make up very little of the game. I’ll do my best to not spoil too much of them in the course of this review, but you can get an idea of what you’ll be up against thanks to the achievement listing available in the extras section of the game. Besides a good number of achievements, this is also where you’ll be able to see some of the artwork of the game when you’ve completed your journey, as well as jam out to the soundtrack whenever you’d like. The music of Double Cross is really fun and upbeat, with a good amount of influence from other 16 bit action adventure games, with quite a bit of originality intermixed. Basically, if you enjoyed the game’s styling, you’ll definitely want to dig into the music more afterwards. See how I deflected away from the boss battles? Alright, onto the game itself.
Each of the worlds that Zahra visits has an initial three stages to explore, and they can be done in any order. I understand this was to help promote a bit more open versatility within the game, but it can change the way that your experience with Double Cross goes in terms of quality. For example, players will generally want to start at the top and work their way down, progressing to generally more difficult levels in order to follow the curve of the mission and the intended game. If you jump ahead, however, and do the more “difficult” stages first, it affects the flow of things overall. Not only do you still have to do the earlier stages in order to progress (and to find everything about who Suspect X may be), it also jams up the narration a bit with Zahra and her cohorts exposition prior to starting. Sure, 13AM did a good job of having some of the static “Ah, welcome to this world!” sort of sentences placed more carefully so they don’t repeat, but it still feels odd. So when you go straight to the hardest of the dinosaur levels and kick some butt, Zahra talks about how she’ll stop the caravan and put an end to Ripjaw’s weapon trade once and for all. But then you go back to the factory to find evidence of his tampering, and it just feels like a dramatic step down from where you once were. At the very least, the puzzles and enemy encounters feel significantly easier, so I’d recommend just sticking to the star ratings and following them.
Having said that, my complaints for Double Cross are finished and we can look at the game as a whole. The way that the stages balance out exploration, combat and puzzle platforming are really solid, and make the play and replay of each stage incredibly satisfying. You’ll rarely hit jags of combat that go on too long, and the wave counter for most of the encounters let you know exactly what to expect. Each stage has its fair share of grunts and mini bosses, with one of my favorites being the robot samurai over in the Funderdome. You definitely learn how to balance out weak and strong attacks, as well as utilizing the limited power-up moves that you charge by gathering energy from defeated enemies. The plasma shot is useful but not something I really used until much later in the game. For me, being able to get in a strong punch, follow it up with a couple weak slaps and ending with a massive force shot of power usually did the trick, and I was rewarded with enough energy to recharge and do it all again for the next wave. There’s also a great healing power that balances its versatility and reusability by taking a moment of uninterrupted standstill in order to use. A pretty good tradeoff, and one that gets even better with the unlocks.
The leveling system of Double Cross is brilliant, and I think 13AM Games handled this incredibly well. In theory, you’d be able to get from start to finish without seeking out Upgradium, but I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that (other than the achievement, naturally). Besides rewarding you for doing exploration and finding all the different hidden portals and false walls, the upgrades can activate both passively and actively, and getting those last couple of upgrades make the end game both more fun and significantly easier. I wish that double jump was much earlier of an unlock, but I understand why it’s the last prize on the wheel. Additionally, the Glass Cannon upgrade is such a welcome challenge modifier, and I might try and do the achievement where you are able to finish the game with it activated. You can only have three of the active upgrades equipped at once, so choose wisely. I’m a big fan of the automatic shield that absorbs one shot, plus “don’t take damage from dying on spikes.” It makes getting through certain spots much, much less stressful. Oh, and don’t be afraid to sacrifice yourself in order to get a hard-to-reach Upgradium: it counts as long as you finish the level.
But it’s not just about fighting, it’s definitely all about some crazy tight and strong level design. You use your Proton Slinger, which is somewhere between a laser grappling hook and a sticky hand, in the most innovative and well done ways that it could carry the whole game without the storyline in between. Being able to fling yourself around, grabbing onto speed lines and snatching objects out of thin air, is immensely satisfying. When you’re able to navigate to the top of Hancho’s tower, bouncing between electrified walls and making split second changes of direction, you feel awesome, and you look awesome to boot. The character design of Zahra and her companions is cartoony without being childish, and the animation for everything is smooth, fluid and flawless. The controls port incredibly well to the Nintendo Switch, so you’ll have no problem getting a nice index finger callus from mashing that ZR button all day long. Additionally, if you’re stealthy enough to pull off your intended mission of “don’t get noticed by wall-to-wall robots,” you get another achievement and a super sense of self-worth.
The final element of Double Cross, the case file, is handled well because it doesn’t eat up too much time in terms of the gameplay. This is something that could have been relegated to a static conversation between characters, but it’s actually fun and breaks up the gameplay to stop and explore the RIFT HQ to talk to people, show off items and get more information. You don’t just wait for the game to do things for you, you actually need to gather proper information and evidence in order to progress forward. If this were a Mega Man game, you might get bored with how linear things can feel and how you just keep being a badass and blowing things up. Zahra is quippy and has some pretty funny interactions that aren’t worth anything more than showing some character and depth to everyone, and that’s damn well worth it. Not to mention you get to keep yourself guessing who amongst your acquaintances might actually be the traitor. Plus, there’s this whole Rogue Zahra thing you run into early on, and you might be able to guess what the grand reveal is there, but just be ready for some real Scooby Doo moments as things get revealed and Dr. Squatch (my favorite side character) does some lab work for you. It’s entertaining, it really is.
13AM Games has done the impossible by batting three fantastic games onto the Switch without mimicking the success of the others or dipping in quality. Double Cross is able to be unique and familiar at the same time, delivering a solid round of entertaining storytelling, tight and difficult platforming, and versatile character design in order to make the most out of each playthrough. You’ll definitely want to run through a couple of times in order to challenge yourself, find all the extras, do the other achievements and figure out what the deeper secrets might be (and if there are multiple endings). Indie fans rejoice: we got another great title on our hands.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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