Poison Control puts players in the roles of an amnesiac protagonist that’s been tied to Poisonette, a sarcastic and emotional being who initially tries to steal your body in order to escape Hell. By working together, you’ll be able to clean up the poison mires of certain “Belle’s Hells”, the areas caused by the severely twisted emotions of various girls.
As you make your way through each stage, shooting demonic entities and clearing the pools of poison from the lands, the relationship between your protagonist character and Poisonette grows closer based on a dialogue system that grants different bonuses. There’s plenty to assume of the title on the surface, but underneath the top layer of fishnets and jiggle physics, there are a handful of interesting gameplay mechanics in here. It’s just up to you to find them.
This review will contain discussions on sexual assault and suicide, and as such, may be alarming or upsetting to some readers.
STORY – OTAKU ORDEAL
Being a firm believer in laying it all out, I’m going to start with the storyline first before we get into the actual minute-to-minute gameplay. The story is an important facet of video games from the emotional arcs they can portray or, in this case, the limited scope they seem to explore.
In Poison Control, players begin by choosing their customizable avatar. Aspects of the character that can be chosen are hair, eye color, and gender. I was glad to see that gender selection doesn’t affect the plot, allowing most to portray themselves. Unfortunately, there is not a non-binary option, which is an even more bizarre omission, given the common androgeny of anime leads.
You awake in Hell without any knowledge of how you got there, just in time to find a woman trying to steal your body. After some confusion, she reveals herself to be Poisonette, a type of emotional manifestation called a Delusion. Desperate to escape Hell with a body of her own, she teams with you to help cleanse the numerous Belle’s Hells that have popped up due to the anguish of nearly/recently deceased girls.
This is a bit of a mouthful of a premise, and the entire thing is presented under a veneer of sexuality that is constantly bouncing around the dialogue scenes. That’s not to criticize; exploring sexuality in games can be an approachable and fascinating thing. But this definitely is less Ni no Kuni and more Kill la Kill (that is to say, not for the kids).
But while the overt salacity of the female characters follows in the footsteps of many game tropes (Japanese-developed titles, highly anime-influenced aesthetic, the sort of game probably found on the PlayStation Vita), there is one particular level, fairly early on, that gave me pause.
Immediately following a level based on the “depraved” mind of a girl obsessed with pornographic manga, we must cleanse a new Hell, this one stemming from a “Girl Who Died For Nothing”. We are introduced to this Belle as a quiet, helpful nurse who was murdered by her hospital director for rejecting his advances. As the level plays out, more of the story is revealed: she came to this hospital after being sexually assaulted by her nursing instructor and turned to the director for help.
The tale goes further, with the accused men leaving a trail of communication that paints the woman as a mentally ill liar, eventually pushing her to suicide. In the end, all of the characters take turns insulting the dead woman, with the interstitial radio announcers even referring to her as a “pathetic dumbass.”
This is a problem. It should be acknowledged as a problem. Sexual assault is not something that should be handled lightly, and painting survivors as liars shouldn’t be acceptable. This mission, in particular, really soured my opinion of the title, and I can only hope will be something other critics pick up on and address and that the developers will learn from this misstep.
Up until this point, I had really enjoyed the radio announcers, Midori Kagutsuchi and Kikiri Tsutsuri, who helped provide some hellion-laced levity between levels. They set up the premise of each new challenge and reminded me in many ways of Calle and Marie from Splatoon. Their quirky banter was entertaining, and the back-and-forth was well written and appealing.
I ended up being really frustrated by the storyline overall, and a lot of that has to do with this above instance. I thought that there were some interesting and funny takes on death and mental states throughout the title, but it was all soured after the botched handling of That One Level.
The girl who had seasonal allergies was fantastic, the greedy hermit who turned out to have grown up in poverty made sense, and the tragic figure skater who drowned brought some additional nuance to Poisonette. If everything had been treated with the same type of attention or forethought, my opinion of this title would have been considerably different.
GAMEPLAY – REVERSE SPLATOON
Narrative issues aside, I found Poison Control to be a surprisingly fun game to actually play. Each area is filled with enemies, but the ground is also covered in poison. Our protagonist can shoot enemies, while Poisonette has the ability to clear the poison mires from the stage, providing bonuses to experience or uncovering hidden chests.
I really did find this to be almost a reverse Splatoon sort of mechanic in that instead of covering as much space as I could with some sort of inky mess, here my goal involved cleaning everything up. Combine it with third-person shooter elements, and you’ve got yourself a real treat of a time.
The upgrade system, however, really needed some work. New attacks or defense items are too few and far between (I say as someone who collected every chest and upgrade). Characters kept telling me to change up my loadout with new weapons, but I kept coming back to the same items since nothing else was an improvement.
My comment earlier about this being a title that would have been on the Vita wasn’t a slight; it’s simply a platform that was a home for many games such as this: strong anime aesthetic, fast-paced action, bite-sized levels – perfect for a commute or a quick game. Now, a new home has appeared, and the Nintendo Switch is a great place to be, with some increasingly impressive company.
A little thing that I enjoyed is that when switching between the characters, you’re only given a limited amount of time as Poisonette. As she can’t directly perform attacks, you’re extra vulnerable when cleaning the area of poison mires. Because of this, half of your strategy is spent executing quick runs to get ammo and power-ups, then returning to your body to unleash some bullet hell (pun intended).
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – STYLIZED SPICE
I want to reiterate; Poison Control is rated T for Teen by the ESRB. It contains no nudity and doesn’t even have costumes on the level of, say, Ivy Valentine from Soulcalibur. But many characters have, well, robust busts, and it’s worth noting. If that’s your jam, great. If not, that aspect of the visuals might be hard to ignore.
Breasts aside, the all-around art style of the game is very cartoonish and slick, with sharp contrast and neon colors everywhere you look. There’s an interesting level of cel-shading that makes enemies look interesting and easy to identify, but when too many group together, performance becomes sluggish.
I adore the energetic rock soundtrack, which pulses along as I methodically clean up each Hellscape. I’m a sucker for fast drums and sick guitars. But enemies multiply pretty quickly, and I’d often find myself surrounded by a number of enemies that caused the framerate to drop noticeably. Maybe it was my Switch Lite, but who’s to say?
It did seem as though the sound design became muddled during actual gameplay. The music is pulsing to the point of overpowering, and as such, it was as though sound effects got lost in the mix. Dialogue scenes were a joy, in part because of the limited vocal work that accompanied the text. Fans of traditional anime series will find the inflections and emotional vocal cues entertaining and satisfying.
Poison Control was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A review code was provided by NIS America.