Cassette Beasts review

Cassette Beasts review

Cozy monster collecting in this great new game from Bytten Studio

Cassette Beasts surprised me. There’s a line early in the game that states (and I’m paraphrasing), “I know none of this makes sense, but don’t worry about it. Just go with it.” In Cassette Beasts, that translates to letting us do things that wouldn’t be allowed in games like Pokemon or Monster Rancher, and it brings a whole entirely wonderful aspect to games that is often held back.

This game is cozy, it’s adventurous, and it may even cause you to shed a little tear now and again, but it’s always a blast to play.

To describe the game’s main charge is best to say that it’s a Pokemon-like where the monsters you capture don’t matter, but what you do with them does. For someone like me, who’s always had issues with the collectathon nature of the genre, this works on levels I didn’t expect. It essentially amounts to capturing a monster and fusing it with one you already have. The game’s engine smartly grabs aspects of different monsters and mashes them together, working them into sometimes horrific creations, sometimes cute creations, but manages to always make us excited for what will pop up. It breaks the habits of Pokemon that always bothered me personally. Let’s say I’m a fan of Gengar in the series. The more experience the little dude earns and the more he levels up, the less likely I am to rotate him out for a weaker creature. The rest of the game becomes just collecting and filling up the Pokedex. In Cassette Beasts we, the hero, gain the majority of the experience and bonuses, and the monsters we swap in pick up those traits from us. That gives us much more freedom to explore and try out different creatures, and essentially create our own that we can continue to develop.

It’s a brilliant concept that encourages exploration on all levels.

Cassette Beasts is a turn-based RPG, heavy on the narrative, and even heavier on the outright influences and homages it pays. It features an aesthetic language that focuses on pixel art on a tilt-shifted world, for almost a diorama feel, as if Link’s Awakening and Pokemon Platinum had a baby. There’s even a light fog and blur effect in some areas that make the game feel as though it’s early morning and everyone is waking up. The plot focuses on this sort of nostalgic and mystical feel, too. Like those classic tropes, everyone washes up on the shores of an island and they don’t know how or why. It’s been happening for the last 100 years, so they’ve sort of given up trying to escape and made a life of it. It gives the developers and excuse to use a variety of time periods and costumes and accents all at once, since people have been showing up from all across time, and it’s charming.

The soundtrack is great too, since the game utilizes live bands and lyrics-filled music. That’s a big part of the overall experience, as everything feels like it’s themed to incorporate music in various ways. The monsters are captured and turned into cassettes (again, “don’t ask why, just go with it”) and are placed into a Walkman when battles commence. The UI is even designed around the portable cassette player idea, as a visible device pops up on the screen and the different buttons (play, pause, stop, record, etc) translate to typical battle functions like attack, call out a new monster, run, use and item.

We even have parties! We can pair up with different characters we meet and let them have their own monsters to swap in and out. Each of them have their own quests and plots and subplots, and we can develop and grow our relationships with them for more opportunities to improve our battles and open more quests. The game already has plenty to do, with a plot that weaves in and out of the absurd, introduces fascinating characters, and takes us into train stations, caves, and day/night cycles.

But it all goes back to the concept that the game is built upon. For the first time in generations of consoles, I love collecting the beasts. It’s something I haven’t felt since the first few times I played Pokémon. It doesn’t feel like work; it’s like getting the next new record for your favorite band, and sometimes your band has hits, and sometimes your band has a spiky tail and one wing.

Don’t worry about it making sense, it doesn’t — just love that band.

This review is based on a Steam code sent to SideQuesting. It originally appeared on the April 26th, 2023 episode of The SideQuest. All images and video courtesy Bytten Studio.