Cassette Beasts takes inspiration from the Pokémon games of the 3D-sprite era while remixing the monster-taming formula with its own beats. Residents of New Wirral record beastly essences with a cassette player and “play” them to transform into the same monster. The result is a unique combat system, but Cassette Beats also presents a mystery for you to solve.
New Wirral is the island purgatory you’re stuck on. New inhabitants typically appear at the beach without any recollection of how they got there before wandering into the nearby area of Harbourtown, where the rest of the stranded islanders live. You quickly run into an angry traffic cone monster, but luckily a ranger named Kayleigh swoops in to save you. She gives you one of two options for your first beast and throws you into battle right away. I got a Bansheep (opens in new tab), which is basically a black-and-purple ghost sheep with wings.
Cassette Beasts’ turn-based battles are double matches, played with a partner, either an NPC or a friend. You swap cassette tapes to fight as different beasts, which can learn new moves just like in other monster-taming games. (Your ability to mimic monsters also lets you traverse environmental obstacles, like growing wings to fly over a cliff.) Action points, illustrated with little squares beneath the health bar, determine whether you have enough energy to use a move. Each character gains 2 AP a turn and another point if they hit a type weakness. Saving points lets you use your strongest moves later in the battle.
Monsters can be combined via the Fusion System, which gives them new sprites combining the traits of both beasts. It works similarly to how demon fusion does in Shin Megami Tensei, but it’s much more varied. You can fuse any two of the 120 beasts into a unique creation rather than just a select few from a catalog. Over 14,000 unique fusions exist in Cassette Beasts, which acts as an alternative to the breeding systems of games like Temtem.
Your bond with your human partner is also something you have to consider. These bonds are valuable because of the buffs they offer, like the Confidant system in Persona 5. You can also fuse with your partner to make a stronger monster during battle. Kayleigh is the only partner in the demo I played, but the official site (opens in new tab) clarifies there will be multiple partners you can choose from to strengthen your team. I only really meet a few people in the demo, including Kayleigh, a French barista, and a guy with a bright pink motorcycle jacket.
Now for the part that really hooked me: Cassette Beasts’ intriguing mystery. I won’t spoil it, but it goes from zero to one hundred real quick during a boss battle in an abandoned subway. It raises the stakes in a way that other monster-taming games often take too long to reach, without feeling like it’s moving too fast. It’s a promising start, especially considering how the bonds between you and your partner are supposed to weave into the gameplay. Even if your character is a blank slate, the rest of the colorful cast more than make up for it.
Also, fittingly for a game about cassettes, the soundtrack (opens in new tab) rocks. Indie composer Joel Baylis (opens in new tab) recently announced that two of the tracks are already available online and on Spotify. These songs also pop up in the Steam Next Fest demo.
In short, I’m impressed. I’m looking forward to returning to New Wirral when the full game comes out in 2023. If you get in quick, you can play the demo during Steam Next Fest on Steam (opens in new tab).