Have you been after a game that exudes pink from almost every nook of the game world? Are you after a game that feels like it would be perfect on the PlayStation Vita if it were still an actively developed-for console? Do you like lots of cute anime girls in a hellish setting? If yes was your answer to any of those questions, then you may wish to consider the latest offering from Nippon Ichi Software America, Poison Control. This is a third-person action/shooter maintaining much of Nippon Ichi Software’s trademark style, delivering a fun, albeit short experience, broken down into small chunks of gameplay.
Purify the Belles
Jumping straight into the action, you wake up in the shoes of either a male or female protagonist. But not everything is as expected, with them suffering from a case of amnesia and finding themselves within this game’s take on hell. The protagonist encounters and immediately ends up sharing their body with Poisonette – a being tasked with purifying the corrupted personal hells of “Belles” – reflecting the worst sides of a humans personality or action. In return, they receive stickers, which can be traded in for entry into heaven – and perhaps – grant the protagonist a means of returning back to life.
From there, the game is bottled up into just shy of 30 individual stages, broken down into gameplay, socialising, and narrative segments. I was honestly expecting this to be a relatively standard affair overall, as the progression through the story was fairly obvious – you collect the stickers and ultimately end up in heaven. However, there were both bite-sized narratives on each individual Belle and longer overarching storylines around the hell and the denizens of it. You could quite easily skip over all this, but for those who are after a fun-enough yet straightforward narrative, Poison Control does a decent job. Plus, the story is quite meaty throughout, so don’t expect hours of gameplay with no story progression.
A 3D Vaporwave Experience
One of the big ways that Poison Control feels like a PlayStation Vita game is its visual style. The strength of Nippon Ichi Software to this day remains (in my opinion) its 2D art style, starting with games like Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom and continuing into recent years with games such as Disgaea 5. Graphically, their 3D art styles have never felt to be more than late-stage PlayStation 3 or early-era PlayStation 4 quality – so with Poison Control, let’s just say you don’t have the next Death Standing or Horizon Zero Dawn on your hands.
But, the visual style is okay and has its charm. It is reminiscent of what I would expect for the less-powerful PlayStation Vita, sans the touchscreen-friendly user interface that I think would combo perfect with the game’s mechanics. I will praise the development team for the fusion of the visuals and music, giving Poison Control a vaporwave motif, which is both thematically cool and still unique for a 3D action shooter.
Guns… Lots of Poison Guns
Poison Control is broken up into a little under 30 levels, each of which are about 15-20 minutes long and are either the hell of a different Belle or the path to another circle of hell. The significant defining factor of the game is that the protagonist and Poisonette are “Soul Mates”, and are literally two souls sharing one body. Therefore, the player must switch between the two forms to get past any obstacles that stand in their way.
Controlling the protagonist, the gameplay takes the form of a third-person shooter, requiring you to fire poison bullets to take down foes on the battlefield. This is arguably the most fun and creative element of the gameplay, as you quickly amass a varied number of guns with different attack styles. All weapons can legitimately played at all parts of the game, and are based primarily on your preferred play style. Weapons can take on the traditional ‘One Bullet per Shot’, or can fire more powerful rounds more slowly, act as a Gatling gun, spread out over a wide area, shut out multiple bullets per shot and many other forms.
Additionally, you can further customise these loadouts through upgrades, gain access to powerful temporary weapons known as ‘Deliriants’ and gain access to unlockable supportive units known as ‘Antidotes’ and ‘Catalysts’. There was a surprising amount of diversity in the game’s shooter mechanics and allows you to adapt the game to your preferences. That said, while a little more complicated, there is nothing stopping you from going through the game with your base loadout if you wanted to.
When using Poisonette, on the other hand, the protagonist crumbles into a pile of invulnerable bones momentarily, and you obtain the power to remove the poison littering the landscape of each hell. Either by running through or encircling poison mires, they will be removed, damaging enemies within the zone and providing you a bounty of currency, power-ups and more. This alone doesn’t have the same damage-impact as shooting up each enemy, instead serving as a loot, progression and defence mechanism. This is where I think touch screen functionality would have been interesting on a portable console or the Nintendo Switch, as it was a missed opportunity not having the player go into an overhead view of the area and able to draw the path Poisonette could travel. This is only a minor comment, though, and could very well be my perspective.
Outside of the levels and upgrading your gear, there isn’t much to keep players’ attention; with the pint-sized experience possible to complete 100% within 10-15 hours, depending on how fast you work your way through the meaty story content. I wouldn’t mind some additional “challenge” stages released at post-launch DLC at some point; I think that is an untapped area I would certainly be willing to throw a few dollars towards.
Overall, Poison Control was a fun enough game while it lasted, with competent and sometimes challenging third-person action gameplay, a competent storyline and still oozing with that Nippon Ichi Software charm which has kept the developer in the public’s eye for many decades now. It is a game that fans of anime-style games should consider playing at some point, and if the price seems a little bit stiff for you at the moment, definitely something to consider in the future when digital sales come around.
One thing that Poison Control has highlighted to me is that the company (in my opinion) should review their approach to 3D visual design in the future. Especially as games graphically get more and more impressive across the board, they should look at how to make their 3D anime-style games just as iconic-looking as their 2D games – which to this day stand out as aesthetically pleasing and memorable.
A complementary copy of Poison Control was provided by Nippon Ichi Software America for the purposes of this review.
Poison Control is now available to purchase on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.