Soft Body is an abstract, kaleidoscopic game that riffs on a bullet hell premise, but it's not a shooter. It's an action-puzzler in which you control a pair of amorphous "bodies", one with the right joystick, and the other with the left. By moving one on top of one another, they can be combined to form a dual-colored blob that you can control with the left stick, while splitting them apart is simply a case of moving the right stick off-center.
The left stick "soft body" can paint empty blocks by touching them, while the right stick "ghost body" can push a dot along a path. The objective on most levels is to paint all the blocks on-screen to make them disappear, while pushing the dot, or sometimes dots to their destination at the end of an often-complex path that wends its way around the screen.
This would be fairly straightforward was it not for the geometric-shaped enemies that populate each level. Some are mobile, while others feel more like emplacements – but whatever their behavior, they spit out slow-moving streams of bullets that are deadly to the touch. This results in screens full of projectiles that make zipping around the level quite challenging. Fortunately, you can slow down the movements of your pair of bodies with the R2 trigger, which enables you to make precision moves when necessary – something that you actually need to do quite often.
Soft Body doesn't feature much in the way of tutorials or hints – it's a case of trial and error to figure out what you need to do to complete each of its screens. While this sounds like a recipe for frustration, it's actually not. Most levels' puzzles are quite straightforward, and are based on a set of game mechanics that are established fairly early, and are easy to learn. Additionally, there are no penalties for failure, and the moment you die, you can restart that level instantly, making it easy to repeatedly tackle each screen until you work out what to do. What also helps is that each level is generally quite short, sometimes taking only a few seconds to successfully complete, once you know what you need to do.
The game contains 100 levels in all, and features two different modes – Soft Game and Hard Game. In the former, most of the time you can get away with playing with both bodies combined, while the latter features a lot of brain-bending puzzles that involve you having to control both bodies simultaneously. It's extremely challenging and requires a lot of patience as you get used to watching the two bodies at once, and making sure that they don't run into bullets or enemies.
For the most part, Soft Body is a strangely relaxing game to play. Even though its action can be quite intense, there's something distinctly meditative about its gameplay. Gliding the bodies around the screen feels calm and considered, and while I found myself getting frustrated when I screwed things up, or came up against a particularly difficult level, I didn’t feel particularly tense and angry. I can't think of many games that have had that kind of effect on me.
Much of this has to do with the soothing way the game looks and sounds. It has a really pleasant ambient soundtrack, and your actions often set off sound effects that blend in with the audio to create abstract music. Combine that with beautifully minimal graphics, and you have a game that that just feels inherently calming.
One aspect of Soft Body that's very noticeable as you progress deeper into the game is its uneven difficulty curve. Some screens are easy to breeze through, but then you suddenly encounter a really tough one, and defeating it takes a lot of time and patience. Later levels also increase in complexity to the point where they test your reflexes and coordination to their limits. Oftentimes you'll know exactly what you need to do – it's just avoiding the myriad of bullets that are being spat across the screen while trying to perfectly execute the right moves to finish the level is really, really tough. This is definitely a game only for those who have cat-like reflexes.
In many respects, Soft Body sounds like a dichotomy: A tranquil experience that features intense action. Yet, it works to deliver something that's addictive and rewarding – exactly what you want from an action-puzzle game. Just bear in mind that Soft Body isn't an easy game. However, if you're the kind of person who loves a particularly stiff challenge, it's worth a look.
This is one seriously tough game, and later levels will test your coordination and reflexes to their limits.
Soft Body's ambient, abstract soundtrack accompanies the proceedings very nicely.
The bright and colorful graphics are stripped down and minimalist, but look stylish.
Soft Body is a very unusual release whose abstract gameplay starts out addictive and entertaining, but soon becomes fiendishly challenging. Its high level of difficulty means it's not for everyone, but if you have superb reflexes and coordination, and love action-puzzle games, it's worth a look.