Review: Cassette Beasts – Gotta Record ’em All

I’ve been a Pokémon fan for just about as long as I’ve been able to read. In fact, Pokémon Blue was my very first video game back at the ripe age of four. I’m still a huge fan, and as much as I’ve been disappointed by some of the recent entries I’m still there day one each time, hoping the franchise will finally iterate and grow. Every year, it seems a new indie monster-catching RPG appears to try and fill the hole that Game Freak refuses to; these Pokémon-likes, however, never seem to land quite right. Even the competently made ones, such as TemTem or Monster Crown, are missing some X-Factor that makes Pokémon work. When I first began Cassette Beasts, I was skeptical that it would be any different. However, this whimsical open-world RPG manages not to replicate Pokémon’s magical X-Factor, but to create its own, even if it gets bogged down in over-complicated mechanics sometimes.

Cassette Beasts is an isekai story, with your self-created character waking up on a beach in a strange new world. You find yourself helpless and alone on the beaches of Harbourtown, a small village surrounded by miles of wilderness. A young woman named Kayleigh, who I am now irreversibly in love with, rescues you and takes you back to town. None of the inhabitants of this world of New Wirral know where they came from or how they ended up here; it is, however, lightly implied that this is some form of the afterlife. At any rate, there is no way back home, so this is where you will remain for the rest of your days. This quaint beach-side town has just one other odd thing going on – the surrounding areas are entirely inhabited by funky little monsters called Cassette Beasts.

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Funky fresh mons? Don’t mind if I do.


Far and away, the biggest problem that has plagued Pokémon-likes over the last three decades is that the monsters almost always suck. They’re either too stylized, too generic, too inconsistent, trying too hard to be edgy, or just flat out ugly. I’d say only Digimon managed to avoid this pitfall among the dozens of monster-catching franchises, and just by a hair. Yet somehow, Cassette Beasts has found some magical middle ground that I didn’t believe existed. The monsters have a consistent design that finds a smart blend of cute and cool, merges well with the aesthetics of the world around them, and yet I don’t think more than a handful could ever be mistaken for Pokémon. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but like I said earlier, developer Bytten Studios has discovered their own X-Factor. These monsters work. Not only are they pleasing to look at, evocative of super-powered pets, and bestowed with catchy pun names that rival Pokémon – it is a miracle that even with over 1,000 existing Pokémon, none of the Cassette Beasts I’ve seen seem to be a rip of an existing Nintendo monster.

With 120 delightful monsters running around, there’s already plenty of variety – that’s almost as many as the first Pokémon generation. As you probably guessed, most of the monsters have evolutionary lines as well. So far they all have just evolved by level-up, although a few of them have branching evolutionary paths that require special conditions or decisions. That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. First, it should be noted that all battles are double battles, even if it means your squad summoning two monsters and the other side only having one. Using the fusion mechanic, which is a meter that is build up by battling, you can fuse any two monsters together to get a new, more powerful unique creature. Read that sentence again. You’re doing the math right. There are 14,000 different monsters in this game as a result of the fusion mechanic. While the fusion monsters are of course procedurally generated, the intelligence of the generation is so great that almost all of the ones I’ve seen look like handcrafted monsters. I am, suffice it to say, in awe of this mechanic.

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The fusions have so much personality you’d swear they’re handcrafted.


Getting back into the game, Cassette Beasts is an open-world, turn-based RPG. There are three campaigns that you can follow: one where you travel the open world defeating the Lovecraftian Archangels from another dimension, another where you defeat the evil Team Landkeepers, and one where you fight the 12 captains located around the region to earn badges. If this sounds extraordinarily like Pokémon Scarlet & Violet on a surface level, it’s because it is. The three campaigns are even almost identical to the three campaigns in Pokémon, but of course Cassette Beasts has been in development since long before Scarlet & Violet were announced, so this is merely an interesting coincidence. Great minds think alike?

When you reach Harbourtown and begin your journey, you’ll get to choose from one of two starter mons, the spooky fluff ball Bansheep or the trickster Candevil. I picked Bansheep because it is objectively better, and accompanied by Kayleigh we set out on our adventure. Here is where things get very, very different – your monsters are sealed in cassette tapes, similar to Pokeballs. However, you don’t summon them. You become them. This is a strange feature of the lore that I honestly do not like. Mechanically, it makes a big difference and is much for the better.

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Meet the squad!

You and your human companion will fight all battles as double battles alongside each other, almost always against two or more opponents. You do directly command your companion’s beasts, so no worries there. I have personally always enjoyed doubles more than singles in Pokémon, and I like the commitment to this format in Cassette Beasts. Each of you is equipped with a magic cassette deck, and loading in your Bansheep cassette while wearing your headphones, voila! You have transformed. This is a power everyone in this world equipped with a cassette deck has.

Branching out from this, losing health on a specific cassette beast is “playing the tape.” Healing your beast is “rewinding the tape.” A beast fainting is the tape “breaking.” Reviving a fainted beast is “respooling the tape.” And this brings us to the catching mechanic, “recording.” This, along with the type advantages, is the biggest departure from how Pokémon has always done things. While I have some issues with the combat, I think Cassette Beasts‘ monster capture method is pretty much unequivocally superior to Pokémon.

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I love how this game isn’t afraid to get very weird very quickly.

You purchase blank cassette tapes from the shop in Harbourtown and use them to attempt to record monsters. This is, lore-wise, a huge difference right away because you’re making a copy of a wild monster, not catching it and keeping it. If you hit the record button during battle, you choose a blank tape (there are better quality ones later on just like Pokeballs) and pick a wild monster to try and record. It’ll show a percentage catch rate above their head (basic tapes start at 25%). Once you start recording, the character (either you or your companion) transforms back into their human form for a turn. Then, you use your other beast to try and damage the opponent as much as possible in one turn, raising the percentage catch rate which is clearly displayed above the creature. Adding status effects like sleep, poison, or even lowering defense helps the catch rate rise.  If the human holding the recorder is hit with an attack, the catch rate drops. At the end of the turn, you attempt the recording and hope for the best with the catch rate you get.

Catching Cassette Beasts is immediately more strategic than Pokémon, which already has a good few layers to catching mons. It’s also a lot more satisfying and much more of an event when you pull it off, because it is difficult. The best catch rate you’re going to get most of the time is 50%, but even that is a reach – opposing beasts will always try to disrupt you by attacking your human with the recorder. There are a few different ways to make this work, but probably the most direct is using elemental walls, which are a type of attack, where you can sacrifice some HP to create a wall that absorbs a hit on the next turn. Even managing that while fighting multiple beasts is a challenge, but I’m sure there are other ways to go about it. Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed this switch-up of the formula. This is the kind of iterating I’d love to see from Pokémon but absolutely never will.

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Five hearts means Kayleigh and I are married, I don’t care what the game says.


Traversing the open world is not quite as smooth as I’d have liked. You’ve got a stamina wheel which seems unnecessary at first, but the reason for it reveals itself a few hours in. There are obstacles in the overworld that can only be explored by unlocking overworld powers, each of which is gained by catching a specific monster. Catching Bulletino grants you the ability to use the bullet crash ability to break through rocks, for instance, even when Bulletino isn’t in your party. You’ll paraglide, swim, crawl up walls in a vine ball, and more to explore new areas of the map as time goes on. My first issue with this system is that running on the ground requires stamina. I don’t think it should – it really only serves as an annoyance. It makes sense that you get more stamina as you progress in the game; much like Breath of the Wild and getting more stamina opens up more of the map because you now have enough to swim somewhere you couldn’t previously reach, for example. This doesn’t really apply to running on the ground, so it feels like a useless handicap.

Although it is a pixel environment with spritework similar to Pokémon Black & White, the world of Cassette Beasts has a lot more topography and is much the better for it. Points of interest are clearly visible on the immediate screen, such as a haunted church on a high ledge, so even if you can’t reach them when you find them, you’ll remember them. There are a large number of small caves featuring some light puzzles, monsters, and treasure, so I suppose you could call them miniature dungeons. Each region also has a (sometimes hidden) underground metro station, in which lies a fast travel point and an Archangel boss. Along with Kayleigh, you’ll defeat these strange corrupt deities that are breaking into the fabric of our world. Each time you do, you’ll see a mysterious man in a cloak with a triangular mirror for a head. What’s his game? Where’s his head? The answers to these questions can only be found in Cassette Beasts!

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Welp, Imma just head out then.


The combat system of Cassette Beasts absolutely delivers on being Pokémon with more depth and strategy, but after engaging with it for so many hours I’m not so sure that’s entirely a good thing. Each beast has a single type assigned to it. You’ve got the obvious ones like water, earth, ice, fire, etc but also some more interesting types like plastic and astral. I know your next question – is there a Pokémon-type chart? Please, god no, I can’t learn another type chart. Is there another type chart? The type interactivity of Cassette Beasts is meant to be more intuitive and meaningful than the one found in Pokémon, the chart that I have had memorized since I was 10 years old. I think it does succeed in being more intuitive, but it’s at the expense of adding a layer of complexity in its execution that I still am having trouble grasping. I use a water attack on a fire monster. Naturally, this is going to be super-effective, right? Rather than doing double damage, though, the attack is given a chemical identifier (hitting fire with water is called extinguishing, for example) and the opponent is given a stat debuff, in this case reducing its melee and ranged attack power. Also note that because you are transforming into different mons, status effects hold when switching. If you’re confused for the next three turns, sorry, switching to a different beast won’t fix it.

I flat out did not enjoy this system for the first five hours, but during a boss battle something in my brain finally clicked. How was I supposed to learn and remember 70 different chemical reactions and their effects? The answer was simple: I wasn’t. Cassette Beasts feels like it is asking too much of you at the start, but in reality it isn’t. You don’t need to know water is going to extinguish a fire monster and lower its ranged and melee attack stats before using the attack. According to the official Cassette Beasts website, you’re not even supposed to remember that. Just know that water is good against fire and move on. I know that fire is strong against poison monsters. I don’t remember what debuffs it applies or the logic behind them, but I don’t have to.

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Yes, there is a new type chart.

This system has a lot going on under the hood, and at the beginning it’s truly overwhelming. Sometimes you’ll see the symbols for eight different stat buffs and debuffs on a single monster and feel your brain melting. Don’t worry about it. A downward red arrow is bad for the monster, and upward green arrow is good. When choosing an attack, before confirming, you can see whether the attack will apply a buff or debuff to the enemy. Put as many red arrows and as few green arrows on the bad guys as you can. Cassette Beasts draws a firm line between competency understanding the system and mastery of it, and mastery is in no way required. At this junction, my main complaint is that the tutorial does a poor job of explaining the combat system and its intent. I know gamers are clamoring for “games that don’t hold your hand,” but a lot of times it feels like Cassette Beasts is actively spitting on your hands, telling you to get over it and figure it out yourself. When it’s at it’s worst, the complexity of the underlying systems remind me of trying to understand modern Yu-gi-oh.

One thing I haven’t addressed yet is the soundtrack. Joel Baylis and Shelby Harvey have put together what is with no contest the best game soundtrack of 2023 so far, and furthermore, one of the best soundtracks of the past few years. There are a lot of vocal songs, which give this game a wildly different tone than most other JPRG-style games. I am absolutely in love with it, and purchased the soundtrack from Bandcamp on my own so I could enjoy the soundtrack biking to and from work every day. This is a mini-boss battle theme called “Like Chimeras” and it’s one of my favorite game tracks ever. 

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How quaint.

Cassette Beasts is at once an obvious first shot at iterating Pokémon in a meaningful way and the result of many years of labor. There is certainly room for improvement, specifically in the pacing, tutorials, the complexity of the battle system, and speed at which you learn how the game works. Truthfully, this is a game that requires you to have the wiki open on the other monitor. Cassette Beasts also can feel hostile sometimes, like in how limited your inventory space for revives and potions is.

After a few hours in New Wirral, however, I think Pokémon fans, whether they’re like me and still playing the games or lapsed fans of days long gone, are going to love Cassette Beasts. It somehow harnesses that undefinable thing that has made Pokémon an unstoppable hit all these years while not being a clone of it. Cassette Beasts wears its inspiration proudly on its sleeve, not hiding its roots, but manages to find a unique identity at the same time. Delightful characters, a moderately interesting story, and an all-timer soundtrack are just icing on the cake of this whimsical and fresh open world RPG. When it’s at its best, Cassette Beasts finds footing next to best entries in Game Freak’s monolithic franchise.

Nirav played Cassette Beasts on PC with a copy he purchased himself. Cassette Beasts is available on Steam at the time of publication and will come to Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch in Spring 2023.

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