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Review: Poison Control

By: Fernando Da Costa


Developer: Nippon Ichi Software

Publisher: NIS America

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC

Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite


Introduction

I’ve never been one to actively try to incite controversy. Usually, when I write reviews, I concentrate on delivering an informative piece. That all changes today because I feel like I’ll be an outlier. While I see the negatives, I was enchanted all the same. It isn’t because the story is groundbreaking or an innovative take on gameplay. Poison Control won’t shatter glass ceilings or redefine the Run and Gun genre. Regardless of that, something about Poison Control buried its claws into me. I found myself utterly addicted by the loop. So grab yourself a coffee and read on to see why I’m so enamoured with Poison Control.


Story Synopsis

As you awake in a strange environment, a creature staggers towards you. It mumbles under its breath before lunging forward and biting your neck. With its teeth penetrating skin, it sucks your flesh before becoming a girl!? You’re shocked by this development while she’s surprised by more suggestive developments. As she turns, she’s taken aback by the skeleton returning her gaze. Your current form is a result of her nibbling you. In doing so, she snatched your body, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. You both now share a vessel - a phenomenon known as Soul Mates.

Poison Control tells a story of women filled with delusions. As a result, many forms of Klesha have been birthed from it. With the help of bubbly radio hosts, both player and their Soul Mate are sent to purify the areas. These are affectionately known as “Belle's Hells.” Be forewarned as the pair won’t do so uncontested. Two others are vying for purification with the promise of entering heaven as the prize. As the race persists, further revelations might hamper the end goal. Despite all the player achieves, will it prove successful?



Writing

As a Nippon Ichi developed game, Poison Control retains that signature silliness. For Disgaea fanatics, you’ll know precisely what to expect. Characters have a certain charm to them. They’re quirky, whimsical, and are oftentimes a bit perverted. The banter tends to air on the humourous side, if not juvenile. It’s never done so in a gratuitous manner, staying minimal and subtle. The radio hosts that guide you through levels are a perfect example of this. I regularly smiled at the nonsense they’d spout. It reminded me of a sibling rivalry because of how they’d interact. That’s not what had me enthralled with the literary work, though; there are two other bits.

First, it’s the interactions between yourself and Poisonette - your soul mate. There’s a genuine amount of development. The writing is compelling, and the tiny bit of character growth is appreciated. Throughout the journey, the both of you get to know one another. This occurs at two different points: after beating a level or in specific situations. As the two of you chat, several choices appear. Depending on your response to her, Poisonette will reply accordingly. It won’t change the ending, but it is a highlight. Her reactions are endearing and lighthearted. Choosing how to interact has another effect, but I’ll touch on that later.



Secondly, I wasn’t anticipating just how dark the Belle’s Hells stories got. They weren’t afraid to cover sensitive issues such as rape or exploitation. There’s also one concerning a little girl, but I refuse to divulge details. I want everyone to experience what I did - heartbreak. I will say that it’s a story that depicts the very definition of childhood innocence. It solicited a sympathetic response from me and pulled at my heartstrings. That compassion I felt for her had me audibly sighing. These stories were well rounded, and I believe the reason is the length. They’re all short, eliminating any need to toss in irrelevant fluff. The writers had no choice but to get straight to the point. That condensed form of storytelling helped them focus on nailing the impact, and they definitely nailed it. I’d silently utter profanities as the puzzle pieces slowly came together.

Poison Control dabbles in tropes. For example, Poisonette and yourself both suffer from the epidemic ravaging the digital world - amnesia. This didn’t bother me due to how it was utilized. The plot device wasn’t used to pad out the narrative artificially. That aforementioned character development is actually intricately woven into your returning memories. I truly loved that because nothing felt wasted. That said, the ending was a bit convoluted. When all was said and done, I didn’t immediately grasp the finish. After a second play-through, it's worth mentioning that alleviated a bit. There was still lingering confusion, but I began connecting the dots.



Gameplay

I’m a massive fan of the blue bomber. In fact, Mega Man remains a franchise I frequent for a quick romp of fun. One title I loved in my youth was Mega Man Legends. I remember renting it practically every weekend at my local Blockbuster. I found Poison Control was reminiscent of that gameplay. The most obvious similarity is the hand-cannon your character has. With it, you run and gun, destroying any and all Klesha in your way. It felt engaging, having to dodge and weave as I whip my reticle around. I’d then have to simultaneously maneuver over poisonous pits called Poison Mires. Levels are absolutely drenched with this gooey substance. You have to circle a portion to purify it and, by proxy, the Belle to which the hell belongs to. By default, the area you can cover is big. It never felt tedious because it could be done fairly quickly. Doing so gained experience points, too, making this a form of grinding. If you still want to buff speed further, however, there are methods to do so.

When interaction with Poisonette is involved, another usage is upgrades. Each choice is assigned an icon; a response will either boost up empathy, or it’ll make the relationship far more toxic. Other than the small humourous replies, this will help you unlock abilities to help you through Poison Control. For example, giving a boost to your movement speed. The dialogue choices also add replay value because it’s impossible to get it all in one go. In this way, there’s a character build aspect. One run could see you move lightning-quick, while the other leaves you immune to Poison Mire. Thanks to the Mega Man DNA, this game‘s very approachable for seconds.


To further justify that comparison, the hand cannon can be charged. Not only that, but after each level, a new skill is available to you. It resembles getting a new power after a boss fight. By using money dropped by enemies or that spawn from depleted Poison Mire, you can rank up your various weapons. One gripe of mine has to do with collecting that currency. Once it appears, it’ll slowly gravitate towards you instead of counting immediately. Because of that, it was much quicker to grab it manually. Doing so, however, broke any momentum I had built. At the end of the day, It’s definitely not a huge deal. Still, I think this slight quality of life addition would only benefit the player. Make the money instantaneously register upon appearing.

Kleshas are the enemies of Poison Control and come in a variety of forms that include: flying, wielding a sword and shield, or on-all-fours. Another minor complaint is the sensitivity of the aiming reticle. It’s too easy to overshoot even with a slight nudge of the joystick. I’d like to preface that by saying my right side has limited motion. In other words, this could be exclusive to me. Nevertheless, it’s a problem since some enemies require precision just to be damaged. Those foes that wield a shield were especially troublesome. It never outright prevented me from moving on, but it prolonged an otherwise breezy battle.

Performance/Presentation

When it comes to stability, Poison Control is a mixed bag. There are a few issues specifically plaguing the frame rate. It’s perplexing, considering graphical fidelity isn’t extensive. Regardless, the game still struggled here.

One such moment is during transitions to illustrations or cut scenes. As it faded to black, it would hang for a second or two before rectifying itself. That, however, isn’t comparable to the end-game hiccups. During the final level, you’ll eventually come by smoke effects. Encountering even a little bit will cause the frames to dip. If more of the same effects fill the screen, the image will come to a complete standstill. Thankfully, this only lasts a second or two before the smoke vanishes. The action then reconvenes as if nothing happened. While it’s minimal, it doesn’t negate just how jarring it can be.

Another instance of the screen locking up is during the final boss. While summoning a few enemies to fight alongside it, expect the frames to tank. The picture comes to a standstill, but the action continues in the background. Fortunately, I was never killed unfairly due to this. The main reason was that much like the other times; this lasts a second or two. It seems the main culprit is particle effects. It’s certainly not a case of enemy volume because I’d have several chasing me at times, during which nothing flattered. Thankfully, I can report these lock-ups won’t hinder the overall experience. Poison Control is beatable, and those off-putting hiccups are relegated for the end.

Sound Design

New IP from Nippon Ichi rarely receives full localization with a dub. That proves true with Poison Control; the voices are Japanese and are well done. The actors really committed to their work, delivering screams and exaggerations whenever called for. Despite not understanding what was being said, the inflections were enough to comprehend the intended emotion. The music, however, does very little to aid in enhancing the emotional impact. That doesn’t mean it’s bad in any way. On the contrary, I found the soundtracks stellar. If you’re someone that likes it when sound design and writing are married together, though, this isn’t for you. I think that the music is irrefutably a high point regardless of this fact.

Verdict

Poison Control hits that addictive niche of simplistic gameplay and humourous writing. Characters are presented in a charming and fun manner. Despite the small amount of depravity, it never overtakes the story it wants to tell. While the ending wasn’t easily digestible, the short narratives from each Belle's Hell were surprisingly dark. Some even got a sincere reaction from me. I immensely enjoyed the dialogue in general and chuckled at the sass Poisonette had. The voice actors added much-needed emotion to the script by committing to their character. If there was a scream, there was no holding back, and that only helped bring them to life.


I loved Poison Control because of its fun and engaging cannon-play. It also has the DNA of Mega Man Legends, so in a way, it felt strangely nostalgic. I was shooting my way through enemies while absorbing the toxic liquid called Poison Mire. Sadly, the stability issues are noticeable and hold this game back from being a great package. Thankfully, those same issues only last a second or two and are exclusive to the final level. My gaming session never felt like it derailed because of these hiccups. I’m also happy to report I never turned off the music. Each track was full of energy, and the bass hit hard. None will amplify a scene's intended emotion, but that didn’t matter as Poison Control isn’t about an in-depth tale. It’s intended as a fun romp with interesting short stories as a bonus. Those tunes are really something, and I highly suggest headphones.

Because of its replay value and a gameplay loop that had me obsessed, I do fully recommend Poison Control.


A game code was provided by NIS America for the purposes of this review.

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