When we think about Hell, we think about darkness, fire, suffering, and terror. We imagine Hell to look somewhat how Dante Alighieri portrayed it in his Inferno, and there has been a long list of games that draw from these depictions of Hell (e.g. Dante’s Inferno, Doom, Diablo, and Devil May Cry). There seems to be an unspoken rule that video games set in Hell should be dark and bizarre. Poison Control depicts Hell as anything but that and takes Hell to a whole other level (pun intended).
How’d I end up in Hell?
In Poison Control, you wake up in Hell as the narrator, whom you get to name and choose the sex for. From the start, you team up with a manifestation, or “Klesha” who takes over your body and asks you to just call her “Poisonette” because she does not remember her name. Like yourself, she has lost most of her memory. Poisonette becomes your guide through Hell as a part of your body, or “Soul Mate,” and helps you purify “Belles’ Hells” in a turf war-style battle. These “Belles” are spirits that are unable to rest. Each battle takes place in a slightly different Hell that has come into existence because of Belles’ unresolved issues. Each Hell has a different story to tell, with some of them being a bit silly to others being outright disturbing. In the end, your motivation to cleanse these hells is the shiny stickers you get at the end. After collecting the right number of stickers, you may end up leaving Hell altogether.
Gameplay in Hell
NIS America calls Poison Control a “turf war-style action-RPG,” but it resembles a shooter more closely. Part of what keeps the game interesting is that every major area has a different objective. Sometimes you must purge a certain percentage of poison by using Poisonette. Other times, you simply must defeat a certain number of Kleshas, and you can do so by using all the different “tools” at your disposal. You can use Poisonette to purge the poison the Kleshas stand on, use an ability called “soulshock,” or shoot a variety of weapons.
The gameplay could be described as casual, fast paced, and entertaining. There is a good variety of upgrades and changes you can make as you progress to keep the game challenging and entertaining. The slight changes from one Hell to the other keep the game from feeling grindy or repetitive. There are small artistic choices, like the changing heads of Kleshas or the use of different animals and colors that contribute to the novelty of every stage despite it being the same platform.
Shooting Poison and More (Shooting/Aiming)
Although shooting plays a vital role in Poison Control, it does not feel natural. While shooting poison, you can lock the camera on to enemies. However, the crosshair cannot lock on. Most of the time, you are being attacked by multiple enemies at once, and locking the camera may be counterproductive because you cannot see if you are running toward more enemies. You can change some of the aiming settings in the options and modify aiming assist or invert the y-axis to help with some of these annoyances, but they persist.
Another infuriating aspect of shooting in Poison Control is that the crosshair appears to shift, typically diagonally, without a warning as you are shooting. There is a possibility that this is caused by aim assist at close ranges. Regardless, it does not make a big difference in the gameplay because most of the weapons are not precision based. Depending on the kind of weapon you are using, your crosshair can be slightly off, and you may still hit the enemy and inflict a good amount of damage.
Periodically, you will need to recharge poison by pressing “L”. When you do, your body sits as a skeleton and Poisonette manifests herself out of your body. You purge the poison by running through it. The poison serves multiple purposes, but its primary purpose is to purge and refuel your primary weapon, the toxicant Poisonette. It is worth noting that there are other toxicants you can unlock, and you can modify your loadout in the main menu.
It’s difficult to tell the weapons apart when shooting since all of the shots appear as blobs of poison. However, there are a couple of exceptions––one is the gatling gun that ejects skulls instead of shells. Other weapons typically change in size, speed, and the color of poison being ejected. Some weapons can be upgraded with coins that you collect throughout missions, making unlocking new weapons optional.
The shooting system is the biggest downside to Poison Control, but it has some enjoyable aspects. The aforementioned aim assist and the option to modify it proves useful. The ability to unlock and upgrade weapons as well as change loadouts is a big help as you progress through the game. In terms of aesthetics, the crosshair’s shifting shapes and colors when you hover over an enemy help you acquire your target faster. Keeping in mind these features, combined with the fact that you have various ways of accomplishing your objective, keeps the game entertaining and allows you to shrug off the shortcomings of the shooting system.
Staging Belles’ Hells
More than a pun to the popular AC/DC song, “Hells Bells,” Belles are spirits directly responsible for the different hells you need to purge. In each Hell, you travel from one floating platform to another like a hurricane with increasingly fast pace as you progress through the game. You do not always have to shoot your way through, and you are also not always concentrating on purging. However, it is worth noting that purging some seemingly unnecessary areas can reward you with new weapons, ammunition, and HP. While it is not necessary for you to explore the entire stage, you may find treasure chests that may contain HP or other items in the form of stickers.
There is a Hell related to dogs, one related to money, another related to celebrities, and so on. The environment and Kleshas mirror the themes through minor cosmetic changes such as hats that Kleshas wear, different colors in the environment, and other decorative elements that help keep Hell looking fresh and good. This method of staging is a clever way to keep the same construct while still offering a different, enjoyable experience every time the player enters the stage.
For the most part, most of the Kleshas have a big bust and fall into the trope of warriors with minimally covering armor. Some of them have different weapons or are of differing statures. However, they are generally easy to defeat. At times, you do not have to confront them all at once but rather dodge them enough to cleanse a certain percentage of the poison and complete your objective. Doing so makes the rest of the Kleshas disappear. This can make some of the hells boring as there is no real challenge in running through poison to win. The real challenge comes in the form of reserving your ammunition and refilling poison to have a way to defeat bosses. However, even those bosses are, for the most part, easy to defeat. Some of them summon Kleshas that are easily avoidable as you recharge and fire back.
At the end of every Hell is the reward of approaching Poisonette with a different comment that leads to leveling up one of five categories. You can make a comment to her that builds trust or one that demonstrates insight. Based on which one you choose, you can receive an HP increase among other upgrades.
Hell is more pleasant than I expected
The game does not have a difficulty setting, but you can turn off assists or skip upgrades to make it more challenging. Many aspects of it make it a rather easy game to play. Even though you can die from time to time because you did not see a shot coming at you amid all the chaos, you never have an overwhelming number of foes or attacks at once. The ability to break enemies through multiple shots or hitting weak points makes it even easier as it gives you a bit of time to recharge or position yourself in a more strategic manner. It is a straightforward game where you must purge as much as possible and complete your objective as fast as possible.
Right from the start, this game focuses on the bouncing bust of a Klesha. Poisonette introduces herself first by her amazement at the size of her own chest. As the story progresses, you have other opportunities to flirt and make Poisonette blush with comments. This becomes a pattern as you meet some minor characters that will also make jokes about Poisonette or your relationship with her and bounce their chest as they speak. In some hells, you may also find illustrations of girls in provocative clothing. All you must do to see them is clean up the poison. The fan-service comes as part of the story and is—thankfully—not something you have to grind for. All in all, the fan-service is presented through a comedic approach that is welcome as an integral part of the entertainment experience.
Graphics and Music
While the graphics in this game are good, they are not impressive for a Switch game. It is the anime-style artwork between battles that really stands out. In the main menu, you will always see Poisonette casually leaning back, arms over her head, and moving ever so slightly as one does while breathing naturally. This is a common approach throughout the game as you encounter several characters or during the scenes between the battles. Any time there is dialogue, you see Poisonette or the accompanying characters express themselves in small, funny, and cute animations right above the dialogue. The animations are not overly complex, but memorable and enjoyable in the development of the characters’ personality.
There are two omniscient commentators in the game’s “Higan Radio,” which serve as your briefing for the hells you are about to go into. However, they are not DJs, and that seems like a missed opportunity because the music in the game could be better. Most of the time, the music outside of the hells comes across as repeated beats. While not boring, they are not the most fitting for the game. In the hells, the music changes every couple of hells, but it is always an electronic song on repeat, and those songs will be forever engraved in your head because you will hear them repeatedly until you move on to the next section of the game.
In a “cutesy” game like Poison Control, filled with clichés and jokes, one would imagine it lacks originality. At a first glance, it resembles a typical manga or anime-inspired hack-and-slash game, but the combination of all its elements makes it a unique game that is enjoyable. Its storytelling is one of the most entertaining factors, which is a bit unprecedented. It is certainly not the kind of game one would expect for when one thinks of games set in Hell, and it is somewhat unclear what kind of gamer it is aiming to attract.
Above all, it maintains an interesting level of novelty through the careful combination of all its features. It certainly seems to have a “love it or hate it” feel to it, but it remains a fun, casual game to play from time to time.
Final Rating: 7/10.