An undeniable feeling of nostalgia washes over me as I dive into Cassette Beasts for the first time. The indie adventure from Bytten Studio is brought to life in a 3D pixel art style, that immediately bringing to mind the classic Pokemon games on GameBoy. In fact, as I quickly come to learn, Cassette Beasts shares a lot of similarities to Pokemon in the way it plays, with creatures to collect and battle. But it also succeeds at feeling original, with its own remixed take on the formula. Instead of catching critters in balls, you record beasts on tapes and actually transform into them in battle. You'll also be accompanied by other characters who can fight alongside you, and even fuse with you to become a more powerful beast.
What's most apparent from the get-go is that there's so much to the setting of New Wirral to explore and discover. After creating my own character (complete with a cat-eared headband accessory, because of course), I find myself mysteriously washed up on the beach. I don't know how I got here or why, but as it turns out, everyone who's in this world isn't able to leave or get back home. With a great mystery underpinning the adventure and challenging battles, I'm pleasantly surprised by just how invested I become in what is easily one of the best twists on a Pokemon-like experience I've played yet.
After finding myself in New Wirral, it's not long before I encounter my first Cassette beast. As a newcomer fresh off the beach, this creature - aptly called Traffikrab (since it looks like a crab with a traffic cone hat) - naturally poses quite a threat to me. Thankfully, Kayleigh, who's one of the companions who can accompany me, enters the picture to help. Kayleigh first asks me what my preferred aesthetic is between sweet and spooky. Whichever one you choose will determine what monster you start out with, which is a fun spin on the select your starter opening. After much deliberation, I go for sweet and transform into Candevil. With a sweet wrapper-shaped head and candy corn horns, I take a moment to appreciate the look of the creature. It has to be said that Cassette Beasts is home to so many fantastic monster designs, and it's a constant joy to discover more throughout my journey.
Not unlike Pokemon, the battles in Cassette Beasts are turn-based with various attack types and buffs to play around with. Every monster also has an elemental type such as Ice, Plant, Fire, and Air - among others - along with Beast types that don't have set elemental traits. Not unlike the super effectiveness of different Pokemon types, Bytten Studio's adventure uses a chemistry system, which means that certain elements can create reactions against another that are positive, negative, or neutral. You can expect to find plenty of challenging battles in New Wirral, with some noticeably tough encounters along the way.
I love how certain aspects of Cassette Beast feel familiar, but it still has its own strong sense of identity. This is no more apparent than in the way it plays on its music-infused theme when it comes to items and mechanics. Healing items, for example, are used to repair any tapes that have broken in battle when a beast's health has completely depleted. Instead of potions, you accordingly use Rewind and Respool. Likewise, the way you can evolve beasts is very fitting. As you fight with your monsters, they'll earn stars. Once they have five stars, you can remaster them. Everything is so well thought out, and better yet works well, giving it both originality and personality.
I heard it through the grapevine
Once I learn the ropes of battle, I get settled into Harbourtown, which acts as your home base in New Wirral. Most of the inhabitants who also mysteriously ended up in this land reside here. While there's a main story to follow, the world is yours to explore, with the residents of the town opening up the way to a host of quests. By listening to rumors from people with question marks above their head, a point of interest will be marked on your map and added to your quest log. The map itself is actually quite sizable, and made up of squares that are blanked out until you venture there, which offers up a continued sense of discovery.
From helping out locals to venturing into caves and much more, I have plenty to do and so much to explore early on. You'll also encounter other characters who will join you after joining forces with Kayleigh. You can only have one companion with you at a time, but whenever you settle down at a campsite to heal, or return to the cafe in Harbourtown for a break, you'll have a little conversation or learn something new about them. In a practical sense, they'll fight alongside you and once your Fusion meter has filled from taking hits in battle, and you can combine forces to become a unique monster that blends both your powers together. Each partner also has their own quest and story for you to explore. It's definitely an added bonus to have a bit of companionship, and I'm keen to see how this develops as I progress further.
With some challenging battles, fantastic monster designs, a generous helping of quests, Cassette Beasts is a banging mixtape of the Pokemon formula. Packed full of personality and intrigue, I can hardly wait to jump back in and get to investigate more and see what other creatures inhibit the world. If you're after a neat, challenging adventure, look no further.
Cassette Beasts is out now on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox Game Pass, and Nintendo Switch. For more recommendations check out our Indie Spotlight series, or look ahead to future releases with our roundup of upcoming indie games.