Poison Control Review
I'm glad Nippon Ichi Software at least tries to dedicate itself to making new games in new IPs not tied to established franchises. When I reviewed Void Terrarium last year, it was a nice breath of fresh air to try something more experimental with no existing lore or conventions that I had to understand before going in.
Poison Control is another such project from the studio, as it continues to evolve to make more games with 3-dimensional models rather than continuing to rely completely on sprites. However, Poison Control sadly doesn't have much going for it.
At the game's onset, your player character wakes up in a hellish landscape and immediately realizes he (or she) is sharing a body with a girlish Inkling-like creature known as Poisonette. You soon learn that in order to return to the living world, you and Poisonette need to purify several "Belle's Hells" which work as your game levels. These hells are effectively domains of girls (sometimes dead, sometimes still living) who have some manner of twisted resentment that causes a poison to appear. Clear these numerous hells of their poison, and you might be able to purchase a ticket back home.
At its core, Poison Control is a simple third-person shooter with basic RPG elements, and you'll begin to go through each Belle's Hell in a level-based system. Soon enough, you'll learn the basics of running and gunning, while swapping weapons when one needs to recharge. That's about all there is to the combat gameplay and it's really as simple you might be imagining. Pull out your gun, strafe & fire, avoid getting hit, deal damage until enemies die. It's quite a straightforward game to figure out.
There are a few different weapon types you'll earn as you progress through the various hells. Some guns fire standard single shots, while others rapid-fire automatic sprays, and some are more like grenade launchers that add a bit of recoil to your shots. I personally found sticking with the standard and rapid-fire weapons to be the most effective types to use, as being able to move is important to not taking damage.
In addition to shooting down the various enemies in your path, you'll also have to often switch control to Poisonette in order to remove the various pools of poison scattered through each level. Poisonette cannot deal damage directly, but instead must run a circle around poison pools, making a complete loop. Within the finished loop, all poison will be removed, and any enemies standing there will take some damage. Clearing poison heals you slightly and gives your money to purchase upgrades to your weapons, so you'll want to make sure you continue to clear out zones are you progress through the game.
Generally, you'll get the hang of how everything works within the game's first hour, switching between shooting down enemies and running loops around poison. Unfortunately, this is the bulk of the game, and nothing much will change in the next 12-15 hours or so until you reach the game's credits. Poison Control is honestly one of the most straightforward and repetitive games I've ever played. Each level plays exactly like the last, and there's not much distinguishing one place from the next.
Most of the Belle's Hells center on a different girl with some sort of grudge or resentment manifesting their hell. There are about 20 in total. On paper, there are a few serious topics brought up in these hells, such as domestic abuse & murder. A few silly hells are mixed in with the more-serious rest, such as one where a belle resents all the cedar trees giving her severe allergies.
Serious or not, besides a base coating on each level, all these hells still play the same way. Strafe and shoot, don't get hit, clear the poison pools. The dialogue within each Belle's Hell is far too abbreviated to do anything interesting with anything them. Each hell - and each's girl's story - is exceedingly fleeting, so think of each Belle as more of a level dressing than anything more substantial than that.
As far as RPG elements go, Poison Control is very, very light. Your character does gain exp and levels, but these largely just bump your HP, defense, and damage dealt slightly. You'll never gain new skills through EXP, and thus the game itself rarely changes from hour 1 to hour 12. There are no character builds, no skill selection, nothing that changes up the core game as you go from level 1 to level 70. It's a bummer, really.
Independent from EXP, there *are* some stats you can raise at pre-determined times throughout the game's story when talking to Poisonette. Depending on a few choices you make, your Synergy, Empathy, Insight, Toxicity, and Trust can be improved. Raising your rank in these various categories can raise your strength, movement speed, clip sizes, and more. Once again, there's not much to this. It's another way to gain a moderate boost to your stats, but these chances to raise stats come at pre-determined points in the game and will barely affect it in real capacity, either through story or combat capabilities.
Poison Control is thin on substance in pretty much every regard, which honestly makes writing a review for it somewhat challenging, because there's not much to say about it. Each level works the same, looks the same, plays the same. Enemies and bosses are also recycled frequently, making a relatively short game feel much longer than it should.
The game's narrative and cast are not worth much mention in this review. You'll meet a few other Poisonettes, who for one reason or another, are also trying to escape back to the real world. Scenes in the game are nothing more than quips for the majority of the runtime, with the actual texture of the story coming in place near the game's conclusion, landing with a whimper.
Poison's Control only saving grace is a stylish art style in character portraits and menus, along with a catchy, electronic synth and guitar-heavy soundtrack. It's not stellar, but it was at least something to zone out to as I mundanely worked from one hell to the next.
When it comes down to it, Poison Control fails to do anything interesting in any manner. There's nothing about the game that is outright broken, but there is just no substance to anything at all. A forgettable nothing story, forgettable gameplay, tedious maps, all lead to an experience that is an easy skip.