Mortal Shell: Complete Edition Review: An Adequate Homage (Switch)

If you love a good Soulslike, Mortal Shell: Complete Edition is one of few available on the Switch platform. It's certainly a game worth playing but errs in following the Dark Souls playbook too closely instead of setting itself apart.

Mortal Shell: Complete Edition Review: An Adequate Homage (Switch)

Heads up, Soulslike fans – Mortal Shell: Complete Edition is now available on Nintendo’s popular hybrid console. There is somewhat of a dearth of titles from this genre on the Switch, so fans will be pleased that they finally have something else to play after their umpteenth playthrough of Dark Souls: Remastered.

Allow me to temper your expectations – Mortal Shell: Complete Edition won’t offer you as much mileage as you might have come to expect from a game in this genre, and it might seem to some people like its trying a little too hard to recreate the magic of From Soft’s genre-defining Souls series. It does some things really well, while in other areas it might leave you feeling a little disappointed.

Nevertheless, the game does have some unique offerings that might appeal to players, such as the rogue like elements and interesting combat mechanics. Mortal Shell: Complete Edition is developed by Cold Symmetry and published by Playstack. It’s available on Switch, Xbox, Playstation and Steam for your regional pricing.

Mortal Shell: Complete Edition - Official Launch Trailer

Story – A Little Too Soulslike

Right out the gates, Mortal Shell leans hard into creating a Soulslike experience. The story isn’t exactly clear cut – there is an opening sequence that explains a bit about the world, what you are (the Foundling) and then drops you into the world with no clear directions or motivations. 

The story is told through texts and messages found in the environment as well as the characters as you unlock their abilities. This echoes the environmental storytelling found in the Dark Souls series to the point that it’s difficult not to compare the 2 games and find Mortal Shell wanting.

There is also Sister Genessa, who is essentially your checkpoint – as you locate her in your journey, she will offer bits of information and the odd quip “to lighten the mood”, which admittedly got me to crack a smile amidst all the confusion and tedium of trying to figure out what was going on and why I was venturing across this world in the first place.

Sester Genessa is a mysterious companion throughout your journey

Sester Genessa is a mysterious companion throughout your journey

Merciful Meanderings

Mortal Shell isn’t nearly as long as the average Souls game, and as far as the story goes, I couldn’t help but feel a little relieved when it was over. It felt all the while as if I was peering through a foggy window, trying to make sense of what was happening on the other side with little motivation to do so.

Fact is, this kind of storytelling works well when the world and mythos are immersive enough to justify it, and Mortal Shell makes an admirable effort to create an invitingly dark and mysterious world that beckons one deeper, but the cracks start to show fairly quickly when you’ve conquered the first couple of bosses and realize that for all the smoke and mirrors, the world just isn’t as expansive or interesting as it wants you to believe it is.

Mortal Shell has the bones of a promising and engaging dark fantasy, but there isn’t enough meat. The game wants you to scratch and pry to piece together the story and works well enough as an homage to Dark Souls, finding itself in a strange place where it is both excitingly ambitious yet not quite living up to it’s full potential.

The story is told through inscriptions scattered throughout the game

The story is told through inscriptions scattered throughout the game

Gameplay – A Mixed Bag

Mortal Shell looks, feels and plays like a Souls game in just about every way. The third-person perspective, controls, and combat feel almost identical to Dark Souls, except that it does have some interesting and unique gameplay elements that keep it engaging enough in its own right.

Chief among the combat abilities that sets Mortal Shell apart is a harden ability that would make Metapod go green with envy. This functions as a block or combo break, and you can use it mid-swing as well, essentially turning your character into a statue for a few seconds and feinting your attack.

Soulslike games tend to live or die by their boss fights, and thankfully this is one area where Mortal Shell offers a glimmer of hope. While repetitive in some aspects (for example, you fight Hadern repeatedly to unlock each weapon) the bosses were unique, challenging and enjoyable to take on.

The enemies you encounter are challenging enough, but I often found myself dashing and rolling past them on my way to the next destination. It was easy enough to pick up enough items along the way to upgrade my shell of choice, since like other games of the genre you will find yourself coming short if you don’t pick your “build” and stick to it. In this case, your Shell. 

The bosses offer a decent challenge

The bosses offer a decent challenge

Not Artificially Intelligent Enough

Truthfully, once you’ve fought any given enemy a few times, you’ll know all their moves and it becomes a simple matter of whittling down their health until they keel over. For all the promise of the combat system, the enemy AI falls flat at times. The game mainly challenges you with the placement of enemies, and one of it’s favorite tricks is to place them just out of sight with either another enemy or piece of loot to draw your attention, hopefully for long enough that the hidden enemy can get a shot in. 

New Game + is unlocked after beating the main story, which allows you to upgrade your weapons further and also carries over all your items from your initial playthrough. Standard fare, really – this might appeal to you if you want to try max out some of the other shells and experience their quirks.

The Virtuous Cycle is DLC content for Mortal Shell that is included in the complete edition. This is a highlight, adding rogue like elements to the game. The goal is still to take on the various bosses and complete the game, but randomizes the enemies while giving your character buffs that are not available in the base game. I found this mode far more enjoyable than the regular story mode.

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The game might fall short in some areas, but offers some unique twists

Graphics and Audio – Glitches and Glory

Visually, Mortal Shell leans a bit too heavily into the Souls part of being a Soulslike – everything from the loading screens to the general dark fantasy aesthetic borrows heavily from Dark Souls. Honestly speaking, it’s hard to ignore the similarities or the feeling that Mortal Shell pales in comparison to the game it clearly draws so much inspiration from.

I encountered an odd graphical glitch, something to do with the fog or lighting, where the screen would flash repeatedly after loading in or out of some areas – possibly quite dangerous for those suffering from epilepsy. Even if you don’t, it makes the game unplayable when it occurs. It’s hard to overlook something like this, and impossible to brush off as a minor issue.

Other than that, visually the world felt bog standard for the most part. You have a swampy area, a fiery tower, an icy tower, and another area comprised of geometric obsidian structures that is perhaps the most interesting to explore for the first while. Strangely, the most interesting area begins to feel awfully bland after a spell – it’s just smooth black rock everywhere with the occasional gold accent and the same 5 or 6 enemies scattered throughout.

Mortal Shell takes a few too many pages out of the Dark Souls playbook

Mortal Shell takes a few too many pages out of the Dark Souls playbook

A Glimmer Of Hope In Sound Design

The soundtrack comprises of a series of tense atmospheric numbers. They work well with the setting, adding a sense of urgency or oppressive hopelessness. It gives the impression that you are marching forth in a war that has long since been lost.

Since this is the complete edition of Mortal Shell, you can change the boss music to a track from Rotting Christ – this changes the game in a sense, since instead of the tense and rhythmic boss theme you will be fighting the boss to a technical and electrifying black metal instrumental theme.

The voice acting is limited to a handful of characters, but overall it felt convincing. Again, this is another area where Mortal Shell felt like it was trying a little too hard to be Dark Souls in a way that isn’t easy to describe, but if you ignore that feeling the quality of the voice work is evident.

I reviewed Mortal Shell: Complete Edition on Nintendo Switch. The review key was provided by Playstack.

Summary
Mortal Shell: Complete Edition has the bones of a good Soulslike, but falls into the trap of being too ambitious for its own good and giving the impression that it's a lot more expansive than it is in reality. It does some things very well and is worth playing, but doesn't hold a candle to the game that it draws so much inspiration from.
Good
  • Unique Harden ability makes combat interesting
  • Virtuous Cycle adds fun rogue like elements
  • Different shells for different play styles
Bad
  • Occasional game-breaking and potentially dangerous graphical issues
  • Comparatively short for a Soulslike
  • Interesting story gets lost in confusion
5.5
Average

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