It’s not a hot take to say that the recent Pokémon games (excluding Pokémon Legends: Arceus – it was a good time) have been lackluster, especially for older, long-time fans. It’s part of the reason why I enjoyed Temtem so much, but I’m still on the hunt for a great single-player monster-hunting adventure. Moonstone Island shows some promise, and so too does LumenTale: Memories of Trey. However, after playing through the Cassette Beasts demo on Steam, I’ve come away believing it has the best shot at capturing that classic Pokémon feel, as it appears to strike a great balance between old and new ideas.
Cassette Beasts opens with a robust character creator for your little pixel person. I was able to recreate a miniature version of myself with far more hair than I actually have in real life. Those that don’t fit into the White Guy template will be happy to hear there are diverse options such as they/them pronouns and headscarves, which is inclusivity I don’t think we’ll ever see in a Pokémon title.
After waking up on a beach — like in many good adventure games — a woman wearing an ‘80s-style windbreaker named Kayleigh greeted me before a monster ambushed us both. Kayleigh gave me a portable cassette player to battle this monster, an adorable little crab wearing a traffic cone named Traffikrab (obviously), and asked us if I preferred a scary aesthetic or sweet. I chose sweet, and she also gifted us a tape with a creature called Candevil recorded within. Then, instead of sending out Candevil from the cassette tape to battle somehow, my avatar instead transformed into Candevil, much to my surprise.
If this all sounds like a fever dream to you, it felt like one playing it, too, yet in an intriguing sort of way rather than nonsensical. Kayleigh assisted us in our battle by transforming into a microphone-wielding monster called Sirenade, and thus the little Traffikrab stood no chance against a couple smacks from both of our monstrous forms.
The battles seem like standard turn-based fare at first, but as I played through the Cassette Beasts demo, a few interesting twists revealed themselves. You have your type matchups; Candevil was a rock type, for instance. Monsters gain action points each turn to use both attacking and status moves, with some moves with no AP cost and more powerful actions using up a lot. What I really enjoyed, however, was how type effectiveness deals more than just extra damage. For instance, I uprooted a plant-type monster with an air attack, which negated some AP it earned each turn. I have no idea how many types there are and how they interact with one another, but this new little quirk in a tried-and-true system has me excited to experiment.
Right after I met Kayleigh, Cassette Beasts hooked me with its premise. She and other residents of Harbourtown informed me that I had somehow been transported to an island called New Wirral that isn’t strictly on Earth and with no way out. They’ve built a little community there to both fend off monster attacks and provide services for one another. It seems you can build relationship levels à la Stardew Valley with residents that battle with you; each resident I talked to with a portrait – some are just NPCs that drop some helpful tips – had their own little story of who they were before and/or how they ended up in New Wirral. Much more than any recent Pokémon game, I wanted to know the story behind what exactly is going on here — of course, the demo didn’t provide any answers.
It did, however, provide more questions. Kayleigh invited me out on patrol to where Earth tremors had spread cracks along the ground. To get there, we had to lure a moth-like monster with a street lamp and catch it with a blank cassette tape, which required returning to my vulnerable human form as my chance to capture increased. This did not capture the monster I battled specifically, but rather copied its form. I still had to defeat the beast even after recording it on tape – another refreshing difference.
This is without mentioning the great music that impressed right away. In a game that uses portable cassette players to battle, you’d expect some good tunes, and Cassette Beasts delivers. Periodically, a soothing woman’s voice will sing during climatic moments or in town, and the battle theme captures the excitement of pitting quirky creatures against one another. If the rest of the game keeps to this standard, the Cassette Beasts soundtrack might find its way into my regular cycle of playlists.
I won’t spoil what happened when we arrived at the cracks in the ground, but let’s just say there are some way more powerful beings in New Wirral than standard monsters, and once Kayleigh and I discovered one, we had to fuse our monsters into a single, powerful amalgamation. The demo didn’t show the breadth of this system. However, the possibilities of fusing any two monsters together, combining their stats, abilities, and appearances, excited me more than the other Pokémon-like game demos I’ve played, and so too did the reveal that there might be a way out of New Wirral. And also there’s a villainous vampire team? Sure, why not?
I hope the small development team at Bytten Studio can answer all the questions I have about the strange goings on in New Wirral, but I’m also not sure it matters. My brief time with Cassette Beasts captured that classic Pokémon feel despite mixing up the formula in unique ways, regardless of the wonderfully bizarre story set up. To find out if the full game will impress me as much as the demo did, I luckily won’t have to wait very long as Cassette Beasts releases on April 26 on PC, with console releases to follow in spring. I have a hunch that this is a winner.