Sometimes a genre tag just doesn't seem to fit. You can play a game for hours, recognise how it looks, identify its influences and still not feel that you're getting the whole story. Luckily, Fractured Soul, on the surface, a gimmicky eShop platformer, reveals the missing piece of the genre puzzle about halfway through.
First impressions are important, though, so let's start with those. Having been partially developed and cancelled before the 3DS came out, Endgame has taken advantage of the eShop to publish the game it has been working on for more than two years. It's a consistently unforgiving platformer that doubles your potential (dis)pleasure by giving you two versions of the level running simultaneously that you need to switch between to succeed.
At first, it's worryingly simple. A chasm might be too big to cross on one screen, but there's a convenient platform on the other. You might run into a damaging barrier on the top window and see a laser-less route below. You'll also notice a ghost of yourself appears on the screen not in use - a nice, but seemingly meaningless, touch.
Then you hit the levels where the point suddenly becomes clear. Levels in which one screen is your only viable route, but causes a damage gauge to build constantly while you're playing on it, or others where one half is submerged in water, changing every aspect of how you move. You need your ghostly clone to track what's happening on the other screen and to know when to switch. Fractured Soul comes into its own in these moments, turning a technique you'd written off as simple puzzling fare into an intense action mechanic.
In its hardest levels, you'll be tasked with fighting different enemies on both screens, using the switch as a dodge or surprise attack, or for keeping up with a constantly moving platform as it weaves its way past any number of obstacles. Often, levels won't have a single checkpoint, meaning you gradually learn each one by rote as you fail, fail and fail again.
It doesn't feel like a platformer at these points and, as Endgame makes quite clear, that isn't necessarily what it's trying to be. Halfway through you're yanked into a traditional shoot 'em up for a short while. That's when it all comes into focus. This is how Fractured Soul treats its platforming: a single mistake can kill you, levels are long and unrelenting and every obstacle is to be feared. At its best, you're playing a side-on shoot 'em up in a clumsy, bipedal ship.
This comes with its problems - the uncluttered environments can look dull and clinical, collision detection can be so vicious that it seems imprecise and the hardest obstacles can take dozens of attempts, which means that you'll be replaying less interesting sections repeatedly, too.
Like the niche genre upon which it draws, this isn't a game for the masses. That said, those interested in the angrier exponents of platforming or shoot 'em ups will find a lot to entertain them here: online leaderboards, unlockable challenges and some horrifyingly brutal par times are all included. Some might want to avoid it, but when you finish the Fractured Soul genre puzzle there's no doubt that it comes together rather nicely.