I don’t get on with turn-based battles the way I did as a kid. The fear of level grinding and strict type charts has kept me away from recent Pokémon-like creature catching games like Temtem, but something about the “overwhelmingly positive” player response on Steam for Cassette Beasts made me give it a chance. I’m quite glad I did.
In Cassette Beasts you wash up on the beach of a strange island where you’re one of many castaways all hailing from slightly different realities. You’ll do battle with wild monsters in New Wirral by transforming yourself into creatures you’ve recorded on tapes—the foundation of the concept that Cassette Beasts is entirely committed to with healing items called rewinds, skills called stickers, and evolutions called remasters. I can’t believe it missed the trick on referring to monster fusions as “remixes” though.
In the tradition of Pokémon and others in this genre, each creature has a type: the standard fire, water, earth, and air, non-elementals like plastic and poison, and weirder categories like glass and glitter. But managing which monsters are best against others is way more complex than just matching fire against plants.
Using a poison attack against a metal monster will coat its surfaces so that it inflicts poison damage of its own for several turns. Using fire against a water type will cover it in a healing steam. My leech attack against a poison creature will deal me damage each turn instead of healing. Lightning types can turn water monsters “conductive,” spreading lightning damage to other conductive creatures like metal and ice. Oh, and using plastic attacks against astral types will drain their action points.
It’s all way too much to remember off the top of my head and although that’s initially intimidating, Cassette Beasts’ UI helpfully shows symbols when I’m considering an attack target to remind me which effects I’m about to trigger. Though I grinded relentlessly through Pokémon as a kid, as an adult I’ve found I typically put down turn-based RPGs around the time that random battles let me turn my brain off. Cassette Beasts absolutely will not let me drift into auto-pilot so I’m nowhere near getting bored.
Cassette Beasts mostly does away with my other turn-based nemesis too: the dreaded level grind. Every new monster I record is just an extension of myself and my own character level, so there’s no time wasted waiting for a new acquisition to benefit from XP sharing to level up. The monster designs have been funky and punny so far from the Trafficrab hermit crab to the floating sheep Wooltergeist and astral type Stardigrade.
If you’re down for co-op, you can have a friend jump in to take control of your companion character at any time. They’re free to explore the world with you and take their own turns in battle too. Though it’s technically local co-op, it works with Steam Remote Play, the developers say.
The game’s own music is important too, composed by developer Jay Baylis’ brother, which Baylis describes in our interview with him above as a mix between “1980s British new wave, lofi beats, and rockin’ anime theme song.” The choice to use vocals in its soundtrack Baylis credits as “Sonic Adventure inspired.” Nice as they are, the vocals were a bit of a distraction for my brain and I was glad to find an option to turn them off in the settings menu.
Cassette Beasts is endearingly weird. Not Undertale-level weird—at least not from the several hours I’ve put in so far—but things are not at all what they seem in New Wirral. I quite quickly encountered its glitchy, horrifying archangels and not long after was off to meet some kind of cult one of my party members had escaped from. Oh, and then there’s the vampire landlords. I expect things are only going to get fishier in New Wirral as I fight my way towards escaping.