NIS Interactive may be best known for the Disgaea franchise, among other tactical role-playing games. However, the team isn’t afraid to step outside of this genre, as proven by the recently rereleased Prinny games. It’s latest game to reach Western shorelines is Poison Control. This one is an ambitious blend of third-person shooter and RPG sprinkled with elements from visual novels and the classic arcade Qix. As experience has taught me, games that strive to transcend one particular genre can turn out surprisingly good or an unfortunate case of wasted potential. Does Poison Control manage to balance all of these gameplay elements, or is it a little disjointed? Let’s journey to the depths of Hell and find out.
Poison Control opens with a cutscene in the first person point of view. Your character (whose name and gender are entirely up to you at the start) is attacked by a denizen of Hell known as a Klesha. After it takes over your body, you learn that this creature is a pink-haired girl named Poisonette. In addition, you realize that these creatures and environments are created based on the various delusions of young women. It’s (of course) up to you and a size-changing sidekick to purify the monsters and rid each landscape (known as Belles’ Hells) of literal poison. Along the way, you’ll also come to terms with how exactly you ended up in Hell and discover Poisonette’s backstory.
The gameplay loop of Poison Control is relatively simple. After the tutorial mission, the game introduced two radio hosts. They serve to fill you in on what is happening in subsequent Belles’ Hells and what you’ll need to do to purify them. From here, you’ll travel to each location on a painfully simple world map to get to the action. Once you arrive, you’ll find yourself running and gunning through a dungeon-like setup while switching over to Poisonette to clean up the pink muck coating the terrain. In addition, you’ll learn a little more about each individual you’ve set out to purify. Slowly unraveling what corrupted them and eventually uncovering an artifact that will set them straight. This may entail destroying a certain amount of Klesha, purifying a certain percentage of the environment, or something else entirely.
Gameplay mechanics are kept pretty simple. I imagine that’s mainly due to the higher emphasis on storytelling than other third-person shooters such as Ratchet and Clank. If you’ve ever played any shooter in your life, you won’t have a hard time wrapping your head around this one. Aiming and firing is a cinch, but there’s also lock-on and aim assist for added accessibility should you need it. Perhaps the unique aspect of the game’s combat is that Poisonette can damage enemies in certain situations when used effectively. Circling a monster hanging around in pink gunk will allow you to stun them and do a pretty significant amount of damage in the process, which reminded me of Qix. In addition, she’s able to uncover buried coins and treasure, rewarding more exploration-minded players. (Remember that she’s on a timer whenever you decide to use her powers).
As the game progressed, I was hoping that the gameplay would start to match the plot in depth. Unfortunately, while the gunplay and light exploration elements continued to be tight, I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing the same thing over and over without a ton of variation. The Klesha isn’t exactly the brightest adversaries. Except when encountered en masse, it’s easy to pick them off from afar or knock them on their behinds (rendering them entirely defenseless). In addition, while you do get new weaponry later on (and through uncovering three stickers permission). I felt the game introduced them a little later than I would have liked. I combined this with three recovery butterflies (think E-Tanks or auto revive potions) and the ability to recover HP by clearing up poison (which you should be doing from the jump). You have a game that’s just a bit too easy to breeze through.
There are also some technical and performance issues worth bringing to attention. Load times can be exceptionally long between missions and story sequences. While the frame rate manages to stay grounded for the first few missions, there are plenty of instances where it struggles to remain consistent. It appears to be a problem for both the Switch and PS4 versions of the game. I also noticed that enemies tend to pop in and out of existence depending on the distance. It looks just as tacky in 2021 as it did with early PS1 titles.
That’s not to say Poison Control isn’t worth your time, especially when taken in short doses. After all, the emphasis is on the plot, which it nails. I appreciated the game’s morbid sense of humor-especially the banter between the two unseen radio hosts who always sign off with “Until next time…damn us all to Hell”. In addition, each mission is a mystery in and of itself. For instance, one early mission sees you taking on the case of a young girl who’s killing off small animals. As you speak with various spirits, you soon learn that this girl had recently lost her beloved pet dog. She believes that if she kills off enough critters, there won’t be enough room in heaven for her dog. She’ll return to the mortal world. There’s also plenty of that quirky breed Japanese adult humor to be had here. (It’s not long until you’re investigating the case of a woman who’s been creating manga meant for “relief”).
The soundtrack is also top-notch, featuring a lot of techno and synth vibes to compliment the action and the storytelling. Some tracks, including “Stagnations,” aren’t far off from something I’d expect out of a modern Sonic the Hedgehog game, and that’s not a bad thing.
The visual style of the game is also stellar. There are plenty of bright, pastel colors that bring to life a depiction of the underworld that I honestly wasn’t expecting. The character designs are also top-notch. Had I not known any better, I would have assumed this game was based on an existing anime or manga property. Also, suppose you’re one of those people. In that case, you’ll probably be pleased to know that “bright and bouncy” applies to some character animations as well as the presentation at large. (cue the Beavis and Butthead laugh track).
In sum, Poison Control manages to succeed in its ambition to some degree. However, while the storytelling and presentation are on point and the shooting/exploration are serviceable, it could have used more depth on the gameplay front. In addition, there’s a noteworthy lack of polish on the technical side of things. Nevertheless, it’s still an easy enough game to recommend to otakus and anyone looking for an Action RPG/Shooter that isn’t as tense or challenging as some games in either genre. I think NintendoLife’s review of the game sums things up nicely- approach this one as a visual novel with the occasional shooting portion. As it stands, I hope this game gets a sequel with a more profound emphasis on gameplay, as Poison Control has a strong foundation behind it.
>Top notch presentation
>Engaging plot with plenty of mysteries to unravel
>Gameplay teeters on the “pick up and play” side of things
>Cleaning up poison and defeating enemies with Poisonette is satisfying
>Combat is perhaps too simple
>While the story behind each mission is unique and interesting, the missions lack variety
>Technical problems such as stutter/frame rate drops and pop-in hinder both the PS4 and Switch editions