Third-person shooters have generally a very dark setting, situated either in a war of sorts or with some grand objective of saving the world from a big bad guy threatening to take over if they are not stopped in time. This is why Poison Control feels so different and so new when compared to other titles in the same genre; while definitely not for everyone, you can surely appreciate how different it is from other third-person shooter games out there.
Published by NIS America, Poison Control is a shooter with a lot of anime elements, and a lot more pink. The basic design of the game is pretty much covered in pink, but the disturbing thing is, a couple of hours in you will not mind it anymore. The basic premise of the game is a standard one – you end up in Hell with a creature who looks intent on killing you. After it attacks, you learn that this was a Klesha, the demons inhabiting this world, and the one who just attacked you stole your body. After getting to know this Klesha, the pair become Soul Mates, since you are basically sharing a body between two identities.
Poisonette, as she will be called throughout the game for lack of a better name, explains that you have descended to Hell. Unfortunately, she has lost her memories as well, meaning collaboration seems the only way out for the moment. The game then kicks off with you adventuring through the misfortunes of others, known as Belle’s Hells, and while clearing off these Hells you will get to know more about yourself and Poisonette in the process.
These Belle’s Hells are basically delusions of people from the Mortal World, and can feature two possible options – either the victim is still alive, or unfortunately, they have passed on. It is your task to clear each Hell and restore the peace to the Belle of the Hell, by way of the different objectives which are tasked to the player. In the case of a dead Belle, they will be able to finally rest and move on, while where she is still alive, she can learn of her mistakes or obsessions and hopefully make better choices in life, although we can never know of the latter.
The controls are fairly simple for a third person shooter. You move around with the left analog stick, aim with L2 and shoot with R2. The R1 button cycles the next weapon, and square is a lock-on button although it feels a little weird as you cannot lock-on when in aiming mode, and sometimes trying to remove lock-on switches aim to another enemy, so it can feel iffy, so it would just be better and more practical to play the game with manual aim.
Poison Control introduces mires to the game, and these are a core mechanic in the game itself. Mires are patches on the level floor which can be purged by channeling Poisonettte into the world, by holding L1, and walking all over the patch. Walking over any part of the mire will purge it, but if you totally circle around the patch, and return to the start of the purge area you will clear all the area inside as well. Some level objectives require you to clear a percentage of the total mire of the area you get locked in, but there are mires all around the level as well. These mires can be cleared for rewards such as coins, ammo or even reveal hidden chests. Purging mires also restores a little bit of HP as well as rapidly restores ammo, which is vital in the game.
Mires can also be used to damage opponents if they get caught up in the yellow purge area when you actually do the purge. They will not get dealt a massive amount of damage in normal mires, but there is a good chance they can be stunned, so you would then be able to dish out more damage uninterrupted. It is a cool mechanic, but one which you cannot rely too much upon.
This is because while you are purging, your body becomes a skeleton while Poisonette is out doing her thing. Your body is still vulnerable to physical attacks, so if an enemy attacks your lifeless bone body while purging, you will lose all purge area progress and return to your normal state. This can also happen if Poisonette is hit when purging, so you have to be careful to still dodge attacks when in purge mode. Purge mode is also active for a short time, so you will need to think before going on the purge and plan ahead so to clear the area you wish before time runs out.
The weapons in Poison Control are quite varied, with weapon unlocks being directly related to the Belle’s Hell which you would have cleared. You can equip up to a total of 4 weapons, which can also be upgraded by spending the coins earned while out purging hells. Three of these weapons are starting weapons, while the fourth is the Deliriant, for which you will need to find ammo from chests or killing enemies or purging mires.
It brings an element of strategy to either go for more damaging weapons from the start or faster weapons and leave the damage for the Deliriant. Ammunition for the latter is never guaranteed, so being more balanced about your loadout is perhaps the safest bet to go into a new level. If you already have tried a level and failed, changing strategies could do the trick then.
The premise of the game is to clear all the Belle’s Hells and then try to ascend your way to heaven. In order to do this, you receive Silver stickers for each Hell cleared. The world map of the Hell Realm starts off quite small, but as you progress in your story, you will open it up further and access more areas. Every five Silver Stickers will award you with a gold sticker and will unlock a boss fight to access a new area. Each area is generally not very long to clear, but some levels will be quite long and tedious, especially if you fail and have to try it again.
Speaking of trying again, Poison Control employs a somewhat strange HP system. You have a set number of health points, but each hit from the enemy will deduct over a third of it. HP drops are not very common, but as previously mentioned you can heal from clearing poison mires found in the level. That said, clearing the mires will also slowly fill a recovery gauge, which shaped as butterflies in the lower right corner, will revive you in case your HP reaches 0.
These revives are quite precious when you venture into enemy-infested areas, so dying early on and using your revives will almost surely mean a do-over if you are not extremely careful, especially when you need to clear some 90% of the mire in the area with multiple enemies swarming and respawning over the place.
Enemy variety is surely not an issue in the game, as you encounter a new enemy time almost every two or three levels. There are the basic Kleshas who walk and swipe at you, and as you progress you will meet other types, such as flying Kleshas, shooters, and even “aquatic” ones who swim and dive inside the mire, meaning clearing it will the the first priority when facing these mobs.
One of the strongest points of Poison Control is its unique stats upgrade system. Instead of earning XP to invest into a skill tree, the game will introduce a “Heart-to-Heart” conversation between Poisonette and yourself, discussing briefly the events of the Belle’s Hell you are clearing or just cleared. In this conversation, you are asked to then make a choice regarding something Poisonette asks you, and the reply will increase one of the parameters of your character. Levelling these stats will increase the relationship between the couple, as well as potentially triggering new abilities upon hitting a new level. One could go with the most optimal response to upgrade a specific tree, but I would rather go with my feelings here, putting myself in the main character’s shoes and acting on his behalf.
Considering the heavy themes which the game deals with, which feature depression, lust and jealousy among others, it gives a nice touch to have an upgrade system which is based on your feelings towards such themes. There will be Heart-to-Heart options which are not as serious as the ones just mentioned, but it will still be a good thinking exercise, as well as a sentimental conversation of sorts, even though the replies are already generated.
Another point in favour of Poison Control is the radio talk show hosts who introduce each and every Belle’s Hell. The radio hosts talk at length in the beginning of each level, basically explaining the problem which the Belle of the Hell is going through. This introduction can help the player start to understand what the level might feature, and make for a short cutscene before each area to learn more about the Belle in question. The radio hosts feel very natural, and their dialogue is refreshing in a game where you will mostly see a lot of negative actions.
The soundtrack of the game is quite good as well, and while it does not give the game any particular identity, it accompanies the game nicely. It has slow music when cutscenes or the radio-show hosts are talking, which can shift quickly to faster-beat tunes when you are in battle. The range of songs on the game is not large, but it still feels that the music is shifting the more you progress in a certain level. It adds another level of depth to the game, and it surely never feels off either.
As for the negatives of Poison Control, the first thing which players will have issues with is the fact that, while being a third-person shooter, it does not feel polished for one. The shooting controls are a bit clunky, and aiming down the sights can cover the remainder of the enemies to be hit and killed in a matter of seconds. Lock-on works strangely as well, as sometimes trying to remove lock-on will have it shift to another enemy, making the combat experience more tedious than anything.
The game features a lot of depth, and elements are not explained very well from the get-go. Sure, no one likes to start a game to be tempested for 20 minutes with new things and tutorials, and Poison Control decides to go the opposite route, introducing new mechanics one by one in new levels. It feels much less obtrusive, but some key elements in the game should be explained earlier, such as the recovery mechanic.
The ammunition in the game can run out very quickly when you are dealing with a lot of enemies, and where there are no mires to refill quickly, you can find situations where you are running about trying to avoid enemy attacks while your guns are replenishing. It is not an ideal situation, and not a very common one I must say, but it definitely happens and it can be very easy to lose all the progress in that level because of it.
That said, Poison Control remains a great game and a very enjoyable experience for those who choose to stick through it. Getting the backstory to what happened to the main character bit by bit is a bigger incentive to progress the game, but the fun gameplay and mechanics make it easier. Poisonette also makes the story much more engaging with her witty remarks and casual side comments, with some emotional time in between to really make players empathize with her.
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