Review – Poison Control
Whenever NIS America announces a new title, I almost unconsciously expect for it to be either a brand new JRPG or a tactics game. The company has carved its well-deserved niche in the gaming industry with excellent franchises like Ys, Trails of Cold Steel, and Disgaea. So I definitely wasn’t expecting for them to announce… a third-person shooter. Sure, it’s an anime-ish shooter that has RPG mechanics, but still a third-person shooter nonetheless. Poison Control isn’t something you see coming out everyday from a Japanese developer, but I’m glad NIS decided to take the risk. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun with it.
Poison Control starts off in the most metal and Doom-inspired of ways: you wake up in hell and you’re immediately attacked by a demon called a Klesha. For some bizarre reason, that attack doesn’t kill you. Instead, it results in you bonding with this being, who presents herself as Poisonette, sharing your body in a symbiotic fashion. She wants to recover her memories and you want to get out of hell. In order to do so, you need to invade individual versions of hell generated by the sorrows of recently deceased people, clean them of a poison mire created by their despair, and get on the good side of hell’s higher ups.
Yes, it reminded me a lot of Persona. Each level reminded me a bit of that game’s palaces, as they are designed after a person’s personality, complete with their darkest secrets and regrets. One level was based around a girl feeling terrible about the death of her dog, so it was filled with tons of dog skeletons. Another level was based around a person’s love for an anime mascot (more specifically, NIS’ own Prinny), so you can already imagine this version of hell was packed with statues and enemies inspired by its looks. Some levels are clearly better designed than others, but all in all, each one of them looks fairly unique. That can be said about the game in its entirety: it’s completely bonkers, unlike anything I have ever seen or played.
Poison Control features a pretty straightforward gameplay loop: choose a level, clean it of pools of poison mire, kill enemies, look for treasure, and grab a macguffin at the end of the mission. There might be a slight deviation in a level’s objective, like it being 100% focused on mire cleansing or getting rid of specific types of foes, but it’s almost always a linear dungeon exploration with occasional optional puzzles and a ton of plot exposition being dumped at you whenever you talk to spirits scattered around a level.
These optional quests aren’t exactly missions per se, but actually hidden pieces of treasure that you should totally spend some time looking for. There are three special emblems hidden in each level, and if you find them all you will unlock a brand new ability that can be included in your loadout in between levels. Speaking of…
You read that right: loadouts. This is a third-person shooter and you can customize your weaponry and “equipment” in between missions. You will always have a main weapon at your disposal, called a Toxicant, a side weapon that can be randomly acquired by defeating enemies, called a Delirant, and passive abilities and buffs which can be unlocked by collecting the aforementioned hidden emblems. A Toxicant has infinite ammo, but needs to slowly recharge after its magazine has been depleted, while Delirants have a higher (but finite) ammo capacity. You also have an area-of-attack move which can be used every now and then, being most effective when you’re surrounded by tons of enemies at once. This is actually a very common situation.
The combat mechanics are very simple. It’s your average third-person shooter from a few generations ago, with no cover mechanics. You can lock onto an enemy out of combat mode, but once you press ZL to activate the aiming mode, all you’ll have at your disposal is a generous but limited aim assist. Shoot at an enemy until its health depletes. Simple as that. It’s a responsive control scheme, but it feels a bit archaic and a bit dated. The input layout takes some time to get used to as well, but all in all, the controls aren’t bad. They aren’t overly glitchy, they don’t suffer from input lag. It just feels like you’re playing a shooter from the PS2 era, so you’ll need some time to adjust your brain back to a 2003 mentality.
Another key mechanic is Poison Control is mire cleansing. Remember the waifu demon you’re sharing your body with? Well, with the press of a button, you can momentarily pass the control of your body to her, leaving you, the protagonist, as a gruesome and static pile of bones. Then you’ll be able to walk on these piles of pink good and eliminate them in a reverse Splatoon fashion. Cleaning these mires is useful for a number of reasons; such as speeding up your main weapon’s cooldown meter, finding hidden items, stunning nearby enemies, and reloading a “continue” meter of sorts, which activates whenever your health depletes to zero.
Finally, there are slight RPG mechanics in here. Of course there would be, this game was made by the same people behind Disgaea after all. Not only can the passive buffs increase some of your stats, such as health and defense, but a little “flirting” minigame at the end of each level can increase your stats as an outcome of your answers with Poisonette. By no means is this deep or complex, but you can get some extra health points or resistance to poison depending on how you interact with her at the end of each mission.
In a technical aspect, Poison Control gets the job done, but I’m not sure if my issues with its graphics are due to its overall “cheap” vibe (as mentioned by the occasionally uninteresting level design) or the fact I played it on the Switch. The resolution isn’t very impressive and the game suffers from framerate hiccups whenever too many enemies show up onscreen at any given time. The PS4 version of game, by the looks of its launch trailer, runs at a much smoother framerate. But honestly, I don’t think that game is best suited for a “normal” console.
The thing is, Poison Control‘s missions are short and replayable. You can easily boot it up, play a mission, save, and shut it down. It is very entertaining in short bursts, which makes the Switch, most specifically in portable mode, a perfect fit for the game.
Whether you decide to pick this game up for PS4 or Switch depends on what you really want from each port. Do you prefer a more stable framerate, better visuals, and slightly faster loading times? The PS4 version is for you. Now, if you want a version that better takes advantage of Poison Control‘s gameplay loop and “pick up and play” design, the Switch version is the way to go. This is a slightly janky shooter, but it’s a unique take on the genre, with its bizarre setting and slight RPG mechanics. If you can look past its technical shortcomings, Poison Control is an easy recommendation.
A striking and unique anime-like art style. Sadly, it’s hindered by some occasionally uninspired level designs and an uneven framerate.
The third-person shooter mechanics in this game are a bit jankier than your average Western release, but you can get used to the weird aiming and unusual control layout after a while. The slight RPG mechanics and loadout system add an extra layer of strategy to the mix.
Most levels feature catchy background tunes. The voice acting, while filled with overly exaggerated anime tropes, is still quite decent.
Poison Control is janky, but it’s still lots of fun. It’s a unique take on third-person shooting games you rarely see in Western games. Its short levels are also a perfect fit for a portable system.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Poison Control is available now on PS4 and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Poison Control was provided by the publisher.