Cassette Beasts Review
Believe it or not, there are a lot of us out there that think Pokémon is an incredibly lame franchise. I love JRPGs, but when Pokémon first came to North America in the late 90s, I thought the gameplay was too simple, and the aesthetic was too ugly. The Super Nintendo, and PS1 both had so many great JRPGs, and the insanely popular Pokémon games felt like they were designed for very young children who had never played those. The monster catching and collecting mechanic was enticing though. We all know how wonderful Shin Megami Tensei, the other monster collecting JRPG franchise, can be. But what if a developer tried to make a game incredibly close to Pokémon, but with none of the lameness? Let’s take a look at Cassette Beasts.
Cassette Beasts is essentially a Pokémon game, with a late 80s/ early 90s aesthetic. It was designed for those of us that were too old to appreciate the appeal of Pokémon, because we were too old and cool at the time. If you’re a JRPG fan who never got into Pokémon, Cassette Beasts is a great alternative. If you’re a Pokémon fan, that’s always staved for more Pokémon-like content, then Cassette Beasts is a must-play.
A Whole New World
Cassette Beasts starts with the player creating a character, who is literally dropped into a new world. The player once existed on Earth, in the real world, and quickly finds that the same scenario has happened to everyone that lives in this strange new fantasy land. Everyone remembers the real world, and nobody knows how or why they ended up in this one. The narrative is about discovering the ways people have adapted to this strange place, and about possibly finding a way home. The narrative isn’t the driving reason to play Cassette Beasts, but it does a good job of creating a fun world to play in.
The core gameplay of Cassette Beasts is the classic Pokémon formula. It’s a turn-based JRPG, where every monster can be captured, and controlled during combat. Every monster has a class, and some classes are weaker and stronger against others. Battle commands cost different amounts of AP, and characters automatically gain two AP per turn. Attacking a monster with a weakness to your type yields additional AP. Characters can use a turn to switch to a different monster. Monsters share the same level as the character that’s controlling them, and don’t need to be levelled up individually.
Characters have a fusion meter. When maxed, characters can combine into one fused version of both monsters they were when fusing. Fused monsters have shared stats and commands, and gain 4 AP per turn. Cassette Beasts easily has over 100 monsters, and they can all be fused to create different chimera versions of them. It’s fun to just experiment fusing just to see the different visuals of combined monsters. The only problem with so much content is that combat gets repetitive after a while. While the monsters and fusions are different, the core combat remains the same. I loved all the options, but would really have to push myself to fill my completionist instincts.
Cassette Beasts implies that a lot of NPCs have been trapped since the 80s, so the world’s technology reflects that. Instead of Pokéballs, players record monsters onto cassette tapes. Combat commands are stickers that can be peeled off tapes and moved to other monsters. These retro aesthetics are an excellent example of Cassette Beasts’ great sense of humor. Another good early example is that healing items are called “rewinds”, because they put your tape back to its beginning. The beginning of the tape, in this case, is a monster with full HP. The image of a rewind item is actually just an HB pencil, because they were commonly used to manually rewind tapes when they got a bit mangled. Little touches like this show how well the retro themes and humor are well-integrated throughout the game.
Cassette Beasts is a visual masterclass. The characters are made up of Earthbound-like 2D sprites. The backgrounds are 3D, and the whole package is presented with an HD-2D aesthetic that also reminded me a lot of the visuals in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Switch. Cassette Beasts’ overworld map is also very reminiscent of a 2D Legend of Zelda title, as it’s a grid made up of smaller areas. The map also has lots of puzzle scenarios, and areas that need certain powers to access. When some monsters are captured they give the player abilities that work outside of combat. An early example is an owl-like monster that gives the player a glide that allows them to reach areas they couldn’t jump to.
There are lots of small additions to Cassette Beasts, that actually amount to a lot of additional depth. The most exciting is that there is local co-op. Battles always have two characters, and a second player can control the second character. The player can open the character building screen from their home base, to adjust their appearance at any time. And boss battles are bizarre. I don’t want to spoil their fun, but they often result in drastic visual shifts, or 4th wall breaking. These battles are a real highlight, and will be a major talking point among Cassette Beasts’ fans.
Finally, the music in Cassette Beasts is excellent. A large portion of the soundtrack is made up of catchy synth rock, that brings to mind 80s soundtracks like the original animated Transformers movie. There are also lots of background songs that feature full vocals, which was a real treat. The issue with this was that some of the music transitions were quite jarring. Background music is sharply reset by opening menus, talking to NPCs, and entering new areas, and this is very obvious when vocals are cut off. But I still commend Cassette Beasts for trying out vocals on their soundtrack. The music itself is truly memorable.
Cassette Beasts is a fantastic Pokémon alternative. It’s a fun monster catching JRPG, with lots of memorable moments. Any fan of turn-based JRPGs, 2D Legend of Zelda-like adventure games, or collect-a-thons should give it a play. Right now Cassette Beasts is a PC-exclusive, but there are Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch versions planned for May 25 2023.
***PC code provided by the publisher***
Bizarre, memorable boss battles
Borrows too much from Pokémon
Combat can get repetitive
Jarring music transitions