Double Cross Review — An Inter-Dimensional Extravaganza Made Boring
Double Cross for PC and Nintendo Switch feels quite unoriginal and bland despite coming from the team that gave us the excellent Runbow.
I’ll be blunt from the start and say that Double Cross is a disappointing game. The game is not poorly designed or broken, it even has some good ideas, it’s just painfully unoriginal and ultimately boring. This becomes an even bigger disappointment when you consider how developer 13AM Games really put themselves on the map with Runbow for Wii U. It was unlike most other platformers that came before it, taking advantage of color in unique ways to create a fast-paced game that was super fun in multiplayer.
Unfortunately, Double Cross is the opposite in many ways. Its visuals look flat despite cool designs and animation, the focus on story proves to be frivolous because of lackluster writing, and its gameplay mechanics, while solid, feel wholly uninspired. When combined with the game’s incredibly short length and occasional technical problems on Switch, the game’s milquetoast nature ultimately means I can’t recommend this game over tons of other great platformers that are available on the Nintendo Switch and PC.
As I mentioned in my preview, Zahra works for an inter-dimensional policing agency called R.I.F.T.. At the start of the game, a traitor masquerading as Suspect X allows their cohorts to break into R.I.F.T.’s headquarters in the Extraverse, kicking off a large scale investigation by Zahra into who or what is behind this major attack.
The game tries to keep to keep this mystery as the focal point throughout the whole game, though the culprit does become fairly obvious part-way through. A minor last-minute twist did pique my curiosity, but the game ended before the concept presented could be fully explored. Conversations are displayed in what the developers describe as visual-novel inspired scenes, though there aren’t actually any dialogue choices.
The artwork and character design is actually quite good, which helped me get through the mostly generic and clunky dialogue. With how much emphasis Double Cross does occasionally try to put on the narrative, I was never consistently drawn to writing, only a couple funny jokes and characters like Agent Pineapple who is a master of disguise and in love with a woman named Ms. Ham.
During her adventure, Zahra has to find evidence around three worlds, Gootopia, Reptarria, and The Funderdome, in order to arrest the main culprit of that area and build her case to take down Suspect X. While the investigative portion of the game seems like it would feed into a hidden collectibles system that has players scouring the environment of each level in order to track down the clue needed, that is not the case. Instead, levels are fairly linear for the most part, usually handing the needed evidence or requiring players talk to the right person once they get back to R.I.F.T. to turn it into evidence.
Upgradium is the main collectible within each level. This is added to an experience bar at the end of a level, with each level up granting Zahra new passive abilities, permanent upgrades, or special attacks. This progression system is actually structured well, rewarding those who really try to sink their teeth into the game. While I still think Double Cross would’ve benefited by making the evidence more hidden or stages more quest-like, upgradium does still work well as a fine collectible. If only the base gameplay loop was more interesting.
Zahra has standard platforming abilities like punching, jumping, and kicking, as well as some other special attacks and the ability to dodge roll through lasers. That being said, Double Cross’ main hook when it comes to platforming is the proton sling, a grappling hook of sorts that lets Zahra swing through levels or pull down doors in certain situations. Sadly, that feels like the only real twist among the standard platforming gameplay, and it’s something titles like Flinthook have done before in a better designed and original way.
The proton sling’s implementation feels a bit unnatural in some of the levels, which do try to make the most out of the mechanics present with things like goo that impact movement, a timer whittling down until a train explodes, or a series of arcade-like challenges tailored around Zahra’s abilities. Still, none of these feel wholly original or even superior to what’s present in Double Cross’ contemporaries in any way, which makes Double Cross feel derivative to a fault.
Part of Runbow’s beauty was how simple the game was, but in a slower paced single-player game with a strong gimmick like this, that simplicity ends up hurting the game without any real hook. Yes, you can choose the main fifteen levels in any order, but when none of them stand out that kind of mechanic doesn’t make me want to return to them and play in a different order next time, despite the game’s short length.
Unfortunately, that short length is another huge blow for Double Cross. As I’ve stated, not much from a gameplay standpoint is abhorrent, there’s just not enough room within the game and its 18 levels (including the tutorial room) to really let unique ideas get fleshed out or to make the game feel like anything more than painfully derivative. Even the levels themselves suffer from padding at some point with entire sections focused on killing enemies with the overtly simple and uninteresting combat.
The one saving grace of those combat sections is the highlight it puts on the game’s animation and character models which are surprisingly creative and fluid. Even if characters aren’t memorable due to bad dialogue, their designs do still stick out in my mind. While that segment of Double Cross’ visual design is good, even it can’t escape being a mixed bag. Environments all feel surprisingly flat and simple with barely enough interesting things going on to keep me invested in the game’s longer levels.
People voiced issue with this back when the game was first revealed, and it unfortunately still hasn’t been completely fixed despite the fact that 13AM took the criticism to heart. Something like Runbow could get away with simpler environments because of its focus on strong and striking color. In a game where Zahra is supposed to be visiting living and breathing worlds, that plainness doesn’t work as well.
Like with many other parts of Double Cross, the environmental art isn’t poorly drawn or designed, it just ends up portraying dimensions that feel more flat and lifeless than the developers were probably intended. The game also suffers from a few technical problems at launch on Nintendo Switch. The framerate would occasionally stutter in intense moments and there were even a few points where the sidescrolling got a bit jittery.
These minute, but sometimes noticeable, technical problems, as well as the length, were truly what pushed me over the edge into not recommending Double Cross. While the game can be harmless enough, its short length and few technical problems really ensure that it’s not worth the price or effort to play when there are other similar platformers on the Nintendo eShop and Steam right now.
I really hate to have compared Double Cross to so many other games during this review, but it just goes to show how trite and unnecessary the game ultimately feels. It isn’t a poorly designed game as its controls are fluid and responsive and most of the levels present are designed well with the gimmicks they play with. Double Cross’ story and its investigative backdrop even contain some neat ideas that would benefit from being fleshed out further. That being said, as they stand, most of those aforementioned things suffer from what seems to be a lack of ambition.
Double Cross ultimately plays things too safe to its own detriment with mechanics that can be found, and are done better, elsewhere. Coupled with the title’s short length and a few technical problems on Nintendo Switch, the experience isn’t worth its cost. I see a great game here under the skin, one that incorporates the investigative elements into gameplay, features more polished writing, and has the vivid visuals of something like Runbow.
Sadly, this is not that game, despite having laid the groundwork for some elements that I would like to see fleshed out in other games. Double Cross is fairly superfluous, sci-fi platformer that’s just adequate enough to get by, and that’s exactly what makes it so frustrating when you know the talented and passionate team it comes from.