Astral Chain is the best new Nintendo franchise since Splatoon

The action game is every bit as weird, knotted, and atonal as it sounds. To prepare the equivalent of video game potpourri, its creators dice and blend proven bits of beloved games. There’s a slice of Zelda’s gear collecting, a sprig of Nier’s world-building, a dollop of Bayonetta’s splashy set-pieces, and a heaping helping of Pokémon.

Seriously, there is a lot of Pokémon here. Earnestly unpacking the central dramatic tension of Astral Chain has me sounding like a ponderous, stoned college student overthinking the backstory of Ash Ketchum. “Hey man, do Pokémon actually want to be captured and forced to fight? What if they fought back? What if we were the real monsters?”

In this way, Astral Chain is Pokémon reflected in a funhouse mirror: distorted, unnerving, and a little grotesque. Enslaving monsters and forcing them to battle scans quite differently when there’s a chain around the neck of your creature and the beast is bucking violently to escape your grip.

So yes, it’s a big tower made of precariously and sometimes uncomfortably stacked ideas pulled from across the game industry, a tower that often feels as if will collapse on itself. Nonetheless, its creators’ solution is to constantly add more seemingly unrelated ideas, somehow providing just enough balance to keep the whole thing standing upright.

I finally get why this balancing act works so well after putting about 15 hours into the game. While Astral Chain features all the complexity and density of a PlatinumGames creation, it retains Nintendo’s knack for accessibility.

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