Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 07/11/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Astral Chain, like Bayonetta 2 and Wonderful 101 (until the remaster) before it, is a Nintendo-exclusive Platinum Games title, and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Like From Software, Platinum has a very distinct style, and you can usually tell that they made a game just based on the feel and flow of the combat, and Astral Chain is no exception to that.
Humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction by incursions from interdimensional creatures called Chimeras from the “Astral Plane.” Our species now lives exclusively on an artificial floating megacity called the Ark. These Chimeras are typically invisible to the naked eye and tough as nails in a fight, so to combat them, a shady research institute with the UNION government developed a way to capture Chimeras and bind them with an “astral chain.” These “Legions” would be paired with a highly trained cop in the Ark Police Department’s Neuron division; these Legions give the officers in Neuron the ability to see and fight Chimeras effectively.
If you’ve played Bayonetta and Wonderful 101, this is kind of like a blend of the two though far closer to Bayonetta. You could also think of it as a modern action implementation of the core idea behind Knuckles Chaotix. You control one of the two characters on the game’s cover depending on what sex you chose; they’re twins, and whoever you didn’t pick becomes a major supporting character. Your Legion is chained to you with the titular astral chain, and while you can control the Legion’s movement while holding ZL, it will be AI-controlled most of the time while you control the human character. Combat is fast-paced like most of Platinum’s games and like most of their games can best be described as “acrobatic.” It can take a little practice to get the hang of it, but once you do, it’s extremely addicting and gives you a major sense of power as you’re chaining up enemies, hopping and sliding across the battlefield, and pulling of brutal finishing moves.
Astral Chain isn’t just a treat to play; it’s also a treat for the eyes. With gorgeous colorful visuals and a bright art style, it definitely disproves the Internet trope of “Switch games have bad graphics.” It’s definitely no Nier Automata nor could it be with the hardware difference, but Astral Chain is a beautiful game nonetheless and definitely one of the best-looking games on Switch. I played with the mClassic dongle plugged into my HDMI hub, and that gave some slight smoothing to some of the stair-stepping, but the effect wasn’t night and day or anything, and the game obviously still looks absolutely fantastic by itself.
Astral Chain, as a Switch exclusive, is definitely a feather in the console’s cap. Having sold over a million copies in its first half-year, it may not be a “killer app” for the Switch, but it’s definitely a huge success for the system and for Platinum; game director Takahisa Taura told Famitsu that the game had outperformed the company’s sales expectations. The game may not sell consoles on its own, but it’s definitely another bullet point on the list of reasons to own a Switch, and it’s a game that Switch owners who enjoy action games definitely need to check out. It can get a little repetitive at times, but there are enough side missions to keep things varied, and as I’ve mentioned, the combat is just sublime.