There’s something that feels right about a monster-battling creature-collecting game coming to a Nintendo console. Originally released for PC on 26 April 2023, Cassette Beasts has made its way to the Nintendo Switch where it belongs. At first glance, Cassette Beasts clearly draws quite a lot of inspiration from Pokémon, yet assuming it’s a Pokéclone would be a mistake. While you explore an overworld teeming with cute and cool critters to battle and capture (or ‘record,’ in this case) and go up against an increasingly difficult array of opposing ‘trainers,' it’s a mishmash of mostly refreshing ideas outside of these basics.
After creating your little pixel avatar, you wake up on the beach of an island called New Wirral. Cassette Beasts’ story gets a little ridiculous right away: you find yourself marooned and separated from the real world, on an island filled with monsters that you can turn into if you record them on tapes and slot them into cassette players. At first, it seems like there’s no way home, but together with a young woman named Kayleigh, you learn that there might be a way out after all through defeating a bunch of otherworldly creatures called Archangels. These Archangels take on eldritch-like forms rather than cute ones, setting them apart from the rest of the monsters you collect.
This setup feels rather thematically incohesive. However, the characters that inhabit this strange world are written with care. As you spend most of your time travelling with a handful of different partners, we grew quite attached to a couple of them, particularly Kayleigh. The cast are all young adults, not children, with more mature – and refreshing – issues to tackle as they come to terms with their monster-battling life on New Wirral.
To find the Archangels, we had to explore the island to its fullest, recording new monsters, ‘remastering’ (evolving) them into more powerful forms, and solving all manner of sidequests along the way. New Wirral itself has far more Zelda: A Link to the Past in its DNA than any Pokémon game. The map is dense rather than expansive, gated off by abilities you have to discover in order to continue exploring. These come from recording certain monsters rather than, say, finding a hookshot in a dungeon. Recording the fire-type Bulletino gave us a dash ability that broke rock barriers, for example.
There’s much more to do on top of this Archangel quest. Defeating Ranger Captains, helping the townsfolk of Harbourtown, taking down a gang of vampire-like real estate agents, increasing relationship levels with partners, and more. We never lacked for something to do, stumbling onto the next little quest ourselves or following a rumour we heard in town. It was all rather fluid.
You solve almost all these quests by battling. One of several partners – that you control – tags along with you, which makes most bouts double battles, though quite often you’ll only face a single opponent. Due to the open nature of the game, we found ourselves over-leveled for some and woefully unprepared for others, which, when combined with a couple of powerful mechanics, created a constantly shifting difficulty between destroying opponents and getting stomped ourselves.
While wasting time in a battle we knew we couldn't win frustrated us a few times, we didn’t mind the easier fights as they allowed us to experiment with complex mechanics. You see, Cassette Beasts does monster typing a little differently than you’d expect. Hitting a monster that is weak or strong against your move causes it to react with a passive buff or debuff. A metal type becomes conductive when hit with an electric attack, taking damage from electric attacks even if it’s not targeted, and a plastic type will turn into a poison type if hit with a fire attack.
Truthfully, we found the sheer number of status effects overwhelming and still haven’t gotten a good grasp of them. Each monster also comes with eight move slots, and we used only a handful for a couple of damaging moves and a powerful status effect or two, leaving plenty of techniques – such as putting up elemental barriers to negate damage – feeling rather useless. As we continued to play, most battles grew stale as we spammed damage moves to get through the fodder before an Archangel or Ranger Captain, where type effects and status moves became more necessary. These boss fights were a great time — the ones we weren't over-leveled for, anyway.
Fodder or not, Cassette Beasts’ monsters steal the show. There’s a healthy 120 available — including our favourite traffic cone-wearing Traffikrab — which come in over a dozen different types. We found the vast majority of the designs superb with even better names, swapping around the likes of Puppercut for Pombomb in order to level them up enough to remaster into cool new forms. Our ever-changing party had quite a lot of variety.
The fusion mechanic takes things a step further. With a partner along for the adventure at all times, you can fuse with them when a specific gauge fills to create an amalgamation of the two monsters you’re using: our Wooltergeist and Decibelle combined into an absurd-looking Woolbelle. With 120 monsters that can fuse with the same type, this leads to something like 14,000 possible creations. As developer Jay Baylis told us, this is an impressively involved process. Mechanically, fusion adds stats together and shares move pools, though we found the aesthetic the most appealing aspect. Some monster combinations look downright hilarious.
Even better, when fusing during battle, the music channels some Persona 5 energy with singer Shelby Harvey cutting in with lyrics. We couldn’t help but crank the volume to max when this happened as we fused to take down an Archangel. For an isometric, sprite-styled game, Cassette Beasts does a great job giving major fights a weighty, climactic feel with its all-around great soundtrack.
Not everything is sunshine and Dandylions, however. From right when we woke up on New Wirral’s beach, the game stuttered and hitched for a minute or two until the area loaded in fully. This happened every time we booted up the game, entered a new area, and throughout in-game cutscenes during the pre-launch review period. The developers have told us they’re working on a patch for launch, so hopefully it's not something you'll encounter. As it’s a turn-based adventure, this didn’t affect our ability to play much, but it still sapped a little joy out of our otherwise merry monster-battling experience.
We still have a lot of adventuring left to do in New Wirral, and we’re in no way upset about it. More monsters to record and remaster, a few more mysteries to uncover, characters to grow fond of, and about 13,970 more fusions to see. Some (hopefully pre-launch-only) performance issues, wonky balance, and overly complex battle mechanics did little to affect how much we enjoyed Cassette Beasts. In fact, it’s one of the better monster-battling games not starring a little electric rodent that you can enjoy on your Nintendo Switch.