When it comes to monster-collecting games, Pokémon has the market cornered. But, now and then, a game with clear inspirations from the long-running series comes along. While many have failed to capture the charm and whimsy of the series they emulate, Cassette Beasts manages to avoid the pitfalls of a soulless clone by creating a vibrant world with lovable creatures that would feel right at home on the Game Boy Advance.
In Cassette Beasts, players roam a vast and vivid world collecting, fighting, and raising beasts while searching for a way home. With over 120 beasts to collect, players are sure to find their favorites — be it a light bulb-obsessed cryptid named Mothmaniac, the dive suit-wearing Sharktanker, or my personal favorite: an explosive pomeranian appropriately named Pombomb. These punny names also translate to clever designs, which add a sense of fun and whimsy to the game’s overall theme. True to the name, Cassette Beasts revolves around cassette tapes used to record beasts, which then allow the user to transform into said creature via a Tape.
Battles in Cassette Beasts are turn-based and focus on exploiting weaknesses, stacking status effects, and delivering enough damage to either deplete the opponents’ Tapes or knock out the wielder directly. Tapes offer plenty of customization when it comes to setting up moves via Stickers, and while not every Tape can use every type of Sticker, the variety is impressive and allows for nearly endless builds and strategies. Thanks to the Fusion mechanic, more strategies unfold, where the player and the partner can combine into one to share elements, moves, and stats. This creates an amusing combination of both sprites and further encourages players to experiment with new combos of Tapes. Of course, Tapes level up and evolve into stronger forms throughout the game, yet some evolutions may branch to become a completely different element. Bootleg Tapes also exist as a rare alternate element version akin to Pokémon‘s regional variants.
Before running through fields and capturing monsters, players are introduced to the dangerous world of New Wirral after waking up on a shore. For unknown reasons, people have been arriving in this world for over a hundred years. Yet, there’s one problem: no one has been able to leave. Within minutes, the game’s goal becomes clear: uncover the mysteries of New Wirral, and find a way home. However, the player won’t be doing so alone, for numerous partners join your cause. While Cassette Beasts does have a main critical path narrative that ties directly into escaping the world, there are plenty of sidequests, including the 12 Ranger Captains who act as the world’s gym leaders and a nefarious group of vampires plotting something truly atrocious: real estate ventures.
While New Wirral is an open world, it’s locked down until players clear a few story sequences. Before long, the player can roam the world to look for better monsters, find treasures, or tackle quests. Players can also gain new traversal abilities by capturing certain beasts. Record a water beast to swim in the sea, an electrical beast for magnetic powers, a beast with vines for wall climbing, and so on. Given the minimal dash, exploring the world of New Wirral can seem agonizingly slow at first. Still, traversal becomes a breeze after clearing out story bosses and gaining new abilities — such as the fiery sprint obtained from a bullet beast.
One of the most striking parts of Cassette Beasts is the aesthetic. In the overworld, players roam around a brightly colored world in 3D. However, when engaging in battle, the perspective shifts to a 2D display where the pixel art shines through. Each beast has a distinct style and personality, and the animations add a bit of charm and flair to every action. The cassette aesthetic, however, can be visually confusing due to the colors. The soft blues mixed with the light purples alongside a gentle green can make it difficult to see how much EXP is needed for the next level or how much HP remains on a particular beast. The aesthetic is pleasant, but I wish important information popped more vividly.
While the visuals are impressive, the soundtrack is where the game shines. Cassette Beasts has a very unique and poppy OST that does a wonderful job of shaping emotions. My favorite part of the audio presentation is how the game incorporates rock, pop, and electronic music into instrumental themes for the overworld and battle. Yet, when entering the cafe or fusing in battle, the vocals kick in and immediately up the ante. Despite having a modern flair, the OST captures the feeling of the late ’80s, early ’90s, and even a touch of the ’00s. The sound design overall — including the many chirps, chimes, and beast noises — is top-notch and adds a layer of personality that makes the world and creatures feel more alive.
Cassette Beasts excels at many things, be it art design, music, or clever writing. However, there are a few minor issues that do bring down the experience on occasion. Firstly, the controls in the overworld can feel stiff. When paired with the slow walking speed and painfully low stamina, it can make traveling the world feel like trudging through mud. That said, new abilities mitigate this, and before long, players will be fire-dashing and vine-climbing everywhere. Secondly, the game uses numerous elements, and keeping track of every interaction can be difficult. While the game does a serviceable job of giving you a small icon with a general idea of what will happen, it can be frustrating to encounter an enemy for the first time and find every attack you use on it will buff it. Additionally, some elements seem to have far too many negative interactions — especially the fire element.
Another slight irritation is the abundance of encounters. Though a world rife with enemies is impressive and feels more alive, it can be frustrating to continually get into battles when trying to solve a puzzle, move rocks onto a switch, or cross a gap. The length of time monsters pursue is too long, and the distance at which NPCs can start a battle feels too long. Finally, a few Ranger Captain and Rogue Fusion battles can be maddening. One in particular constantly blinds the player while raising their evasion almost every turn. Clearing the effects and having them get stacked right back on is frustrating, though not impossible. Mercifully, retrying with a different strategy is quick and painless.
Though my time with the game was a brief 15 hours, the post-game content is an absolute behemoth. Should players want to complete every quest and collect every Tape, the playtime can easily quadruple. Once the game is over, even more content is available thanks to the built-in custom game mode with features such as a randomizer and permadeath (ala Pokémon‘s Nuzlocke.) These features alone show that the developers know exactly what longtime fans of creature collecting games want, and ensures players will keep coming back to New Wirral.
Overall, Cassette Beasts is charming, fun, and creative. Despite being a monster-collecting RPG inspired by Pokémon, it feels unique thanks to its aesthetic, design, and, most importantly, its heart. The development team has a clear passion, and the game drips with personality on every front. Cassette Beasts is a game I’d recommend to any Pokémon fan looking for a new take on monster-collecting games, as well as a game I’d suggest for anyone in the mood for a fun and breezy little RPG. It’s short, it’s sweet, and most importantly: it’s fun.