Listen to this Article
Double Cross is a disparate title. Large sections of the game are stellar, demonstrating keen mechanical design and flowing perfectly, but interspersed are sections of monotony and frustration.
The highs and lows come inconsistently, leaving me constantly unsure how I feel about the game. Double Cross’s high points do an excellent job of offsetting some of the drudgeries, but is that enough?
Partly responsible for the inconsistent experience is the game’s structure. Following a short introduction in the game’s central hub, the player is made aware of three distinct worlds they need to travel to, each containing three missions available right from the start. The player is left to decide in which order to complete each area, and this is reflective of a larger focus on player-defined pacing, in both structure and moment-to-moment gameplay. Giving the player this choice isn’t inherently bad; the issue emerges due to the considerable variance in the quality of each level. It’s possible to experience the best level in the game, followed by the dullest of the dull.
I don’t want to meander on this point too long, because that would do a disservice to just how impressive Double Cross can be. One element worthy of unqualified praise is the game’s visual design. The worlds and characters are vibrant and varied, presenting a charming uniqueness without losing cohesion. Characters like giant broccoli man Sprout Ironbulk and regular human man Dash Sterling fit together with no dissonance, all thanks to lovingly-crafted art reminiscent of recent Cartoon Network productions.
This strong artistic direction carries over into many but sadly, not all, of Double Cross’s levels. One highlight is The Funderdome, a neo-Tokyo locale that looks stunning in motion, and incidentally is the strongest of the game’s three major areas. The Funderdome introduces dynamic traversal mechanics that make use of the game’s Proton Slinger (more on that later) to create intricate, satisfying platforming. The second level in The Funderdome is the most creative in all of Double Cross, eschewing the traditional level format and dropping players into Funky’s Arcadium. Inside, the player needs to gain access to the VIP area by getting onto the leaderboards for all six of the Arcadium’s games.
Each of these arcade games utilizes Double Cross’s Proton Slinger mechanic to create interesting mini-games that are a whole heap of fun(derdome) to play through. The Proton Slinger is an interesting piece of kit. It allows the player to slow time and aim at anchor points that are dotted through levels, the player is then flung in the direction of the anchor allowing for some interesting platforming. It’s not particularly innovative but combined with some of the level specific mechanics, it’s quite engaging.
It’s a shame that, while all the mechanics are fun, they are let down by some small nagging issues. Double Cross’s tutorials leave a lot to be desired, specific button prompts aren’t shown, leaving the player to investigate key bindings in the options menu. The one occasion a button prompt was shown to me, it was incorrect, showing the X button despite the correct control being Y (or Triangle for Dualshock users). Collision detection struggles at times, failing to function properly in cases where precision is required, and this issue is compounded by the dodge causing input delay in the frames following it. It’s really disappointing to see these small issues drag down an otherwise fantastic set of mechanics.
Combat is another difficult point. It’s certainly functional, and eventually, the player gains access to moves that make it sufficiently fun (the dive kick is a nice little move). Unfortunately, at the beginning of the game, the combat is so unremarkable that it feels unnecessary. It seems silly to lock moves behind leveling when the combat system is so lacking in depth. It’s a problem I last encountered in 2018’s God of War; certain moves that should be part of the default kit are locked up for no real reason.
I suppose I should touch on Double Cross’s narrative, out-of-sync though it may seem to introduce so late in this review (let’s pretend this is intentional, to reflect Double Cross’s own out-of-sync structure). Players assume the role of Zhara, an agent of R.I.F.T, an organization that regulates inter-dimensional travel, to prevent inter-dimensional disaster. Things go off-the-rails when the R.I.F.T base is attacked by a masked villain who steals the metacatalyst (a very powerful thingamajig). Zhara is assigned to investigate the masked miscreant, a task which introduces a loose framing mechanic where Zhara must collect evidence to compile into cases to get closer to figuring out the thief’s identity.
The story is actually fairly compelling, due largely to the charming cast and their witty (if a little punny) dialogue. There are even a few side stories, my favorite being Zhara helping a lovable tentacle monster (who maybe eats humans) join up as a R.I.F.T agent. The narrative flirts with serious themes like interventionism and the questioning of established authorities, but it’s nothing too incisive, which I find to be for the best. Double Cross would be a whole lot less charming if it took itself too seriously.
On that note, the area Reptarra takes itself too seriously. Compared to the thrills of The Funderdome, Reptarra (a Mad Max-esque wasteland) is a dreary affair. Its unique mechanics are still interesting, one particular level has you progressing along a convoy of trucks with zip-lines, blowing several up to stop an attack on a civilian village. The fun of the gameplay is washed out by a trite setting executed with minimal creativity, a raider plagued wasteland is well-trodden ground, and Double Cross fails to iterate upon it.
It’s difficult to reach a conclusion on Double Cross. I spent six hours completing the game, and I enjoyed 90% of that time. It is only the presence of that frustrating 10% that casts a negative shadow. The purpose of a review is to help consumers decide if a game is worth their time and money. Is Double Cross worth yours? I’m inclined to say yes. Despite falling at a few hurdles, this was a lovely little experience, and I’d happily play more. Double Cross has its issues but 13AM Games have proven themselves as capable and creative developers. I hope we see more from them and Double Cross, hopefully with an extra bit of polish.