Every time NIS America announces a new title, we almost subconsciously expect it to be a brand new JRPG or a tactics game. The company has conquered its well-deserved niche in the gaming industry with outstanding franchises such as Ys, Trails of Cold Steel and Disgaea. So we definitely didn’t expect them to announce a third-person shooter. Sure, it’s an anime-style shooter with RPG mechanics, but a third-person shooter nonetheless. Poison Control is not something you see coming up every day from a Japanese developer. It is by no means a top game, but one that we could enjoy.
Poison Control starts in the most metal and Doom-inspired of ways: you wake up in hell and are immediately attacked by a demon called a Klesha. For some bizarre reason, that attack doesn’t kill you. Instead, it results in a bond with this creature, which presents itself as Poisonette and shares your body in a symbiotic way. She wants to reminisce and you want to get out of hell. To do this, you must invade individual versions of hell spawned by the grief of recently deceased people, rid them of a poisonous mud created by their despair, and on the good side of the higher-ups of come hell.
Yes, it reminded us a lot of Persona. Each level reminded us a bit of the palaces of that game, as they are designed after a person’s personality, complete with their darkest secrets and regrets. One level was based on a girl feeling terrible about her dog’s death, so it was filled with tons of dog skeletons. Another level was based on someone’s love for an anime mascot (more specifically, NIS ‘own Prinny), so you can already imagine that this version of hell was full of visuals and enemies inspired by his looks. Some levels are clearly better designed than others, but all in all they all look quite unique, and that can be said about the game as a whole.
Poison Control has a fairly simple gameplay loop: choose a level, clear pools of poison, kill enemies, search for treasure, and grab a macguffin at the end of the mission. There may be a slight deviation in the purpose of a level, as if it were 100% focused on clearing mud or getting rid of specific types of enemies, but it is almost always a linear exploration of a dungeon with occasional optional puzzles and a lot of plot expositions that get dumped when you talk to ghosts scattered in each level.
These optional quests are not missions per se, but actually hidden treasures that you should spend some time on. There are three special emblems hidden in each level, and finding them all will unlock a brand new ability that can be incorporated into your gear between levels. Speaking of…
You read that right: equipment. This is a third-person shooter and you can adjust your weapons and “equipment” between missions. You always have at your disposal a main weapon called a Toxicant, a side weapon that can be obtained randomly by defeating enemies called a Delirant, and passive abilities and buffs that can be unlocked by collecting the aforementioned hidden emblems. A poisonous person has infinite ammo, but must be charged slowly after their magazine is used up, while deliritors have a higher (but limited) ammo capacity. You also have a special that can be used every now and then, which is most effective when you are surrounded by tons of enemies at once. This is actually a very common situation.
The combat mechanics are very simple. It’s your average third-person shooter from a few generations ago, with no cover options. You can lock an enemy out of combat mode, but once you press ZL to activate aiming mode, you only have a generous but limited aiming aid at your disposal. Shoot an enemy until his health is depleted. Simple as that. It’s a responsive control scheme, but it feels a bit archaic and a bit dated. The layout of the input also takes some getting used to, but all in all, the controls aren’t bad. They’re not overly glitchy, they don’t suffer from input lag. It just feels like you’re playing a PS2 era shooter, so you need some time to get your brain back to a 2003 mindset.
Another important feature in Poison Control is swamp cleaning. Do you remember the waifu demon you share your body with? Well, with the push of a button, you can temporarily pass control of your body to her, leaving you, the protagonist, like a gruesome and static pile of bones. Then you can walk over these stacks of pink well and eliminate them in a reverse Splatoon fashion. Cleaning these swamps is beneficial for a number of reasons; like speeding up your main weapon cooldown meter, finding hidden items, stuning nearby enemies and reloading some sort of “continue” meter, which is triggered when your health drops to zero.
Finally, there are also small RPG mechanics. Of course, this game was made by the same people behind Disgaea after all. Not only can the passive buffs increase some of your stats such as health and defense, but a little “flirtatious” minigame at the end of each level can boost your stats as a result of your responses with Poisonette. This is by no means deep or complex, but you can gain some extra health points or poison resistance depending on how you handle her at the end of each mission.
Technically, Poison Control gets the job done, but we don’t know now if the problem is with the overall cheap-looking finish of the game or the fact that the game does have frame dips on Switch anyway. The PS4 version promises to have a higher frame rate, but as always, the Switch has to make do with a little less image quality in favor of the portability of the game. The thing is, Poison Control’s missions are short and replayable. You can easily start it up, play a mission, save it and exit. It’s very entertaining in short bursts, making the Switch a perfect match for the game, especially in portable mode.
Whether you decide to pick up this game for PS4 or Switch depends on what you really want from each port. Prefer a more stable frame rate, better images and slightly faster loading times? The PS4 version is for you. Now if you want a version that takes better advantage of Poison Control’s gameplay loop and “pick up and play” design, the Switch version is the way to go. This is a slightly janky shooter, but it’s a unique take on the genre, with its bizarre setting and light RPG mechanics. If you can look past the technical shortcomings, Poison Control is definitely a recommendation.
Poison Control brings back the third person shooter vibe of 2003 and that can be seen as both good and bad. With some interesting RPG aspects and a nice art style, although that is sometimes at the expense of the frame rate.