There are soulslikes that copy the difficulty of Dark Souls, or the corpse runs, or the forlorn fantasy worlds. A lot of them copy all of the above. But the fonts? That's a level of shameless reproduction that makes me hiss through my teeth a bit, which is what I wanted to do when I started up a demo of Lies of P, the Pinnochiosouls game we've been mildly obsessed with since last year. The twist, which I am still trying to process, is that it also seems like it's pretty damn good.
Lies of P is such an odd thing—I'd love to know if the developers decided the world desperately needed a dark and moody Pinnochio videogame first, or decided to make their own version of FromSoftware's Bloodborne before poring through the public domain to find the right puppet. If they'd just started it a couple years later, maybe it would've been a Winnie the Pooh game again. Whatever the origin story, Lies of P is 100% committed to the bit.
The game looks and moves like a younger sibling of Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3, with the sort of measured pace that requires care in dodging big enemy strikes. You can run past mobs, but only with some deliberate kiting. Light and heavy attacks, familiarly mapped to a controller's right bumper and trigger by default, can be chained into multiple strikes. Perhaps the most telltale sign here that this isn't Bloodborne is that it's running at a much smoother 60 frames per second than FromSoftware's gothic PS4 masterpiece.
After Elden Ring's vast sprawl, it was refreshing—exciting, even—to put my hands on a game that feels so much like the more constrained games FromSoftware was making a few years ago. From the one area I explored, a dilapidated factory, Lies of P seems to have learned its lesson well. There are raised walkways with surprise drops into rooms where shambling automata wait to attack. There are intimidating monsters roaming around near smaller groups, ready to chase you into a pincer attack. There's a tall ladder you climb down directly into a poison fog, where a towering boss waits to step on you. Of course there's a glowing item in there inviting you to linger a few seconds too long.
My favorite discovery in the demo was that Pinnochio has a mechanical arm, allowing him to take advantage of his not-a-real-boy status to equip a grappling hook or a cannon that fires explosive charges that detonate after a few seconds. I have to admit I'm smitten with seriously Lies of P seems to be taking its interpretation of this setting, with clockwork soldiers and posessed marionettes and fucked up clowns just a few of the steampunk circus enemies I saw in half an hour.
I was told, too, that dialogue choices—lies—you make throughout the story will affect how it plays out, which is as standard as videogame design choices come, but actually pretty funny in a game about Pinnochio. Maybe really funny, when Lies of P seems to be treating its story with the same detached earnestness as any of FromSoftware's doomed post-apocalypses. HBO Mario Kart comes to mind.
I kind of love it? Or I want to love it. It's just that everything about Lies of P feels like it's skirting the razor's edge of copyright infringement, or at least extending its nose well past the point of homage into outright aesthetic theft. It's hard not to see Sekiro's arm prosthetics being an influence here, or the delicate serif font FromSoftware's been using in its games for years. Even Pinnochio himself looks like he was created by a Midjourney AI trained exclusively on moody photos of Timothee Chalamet.
In my short time playing, there were also warning signs that Lies of P will fall into some of the same shortcomings of other soulslikes. The one boss I went up against, a towering robot, was the opposite of fun: just a clunky stepper I had to stab in the ankles in a pool of poison water. Most of the time I couldn't aim the camera high enough to see past his waist. None of FromSoftware's imitators have come close to recreating the studio's best boss fights, and this one seemed more on par with some of its worst.
But Lies of P is clearly a big game, and there may be far better—or more unique—bosses waiting past the confines of the demo. It's shameless, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to go out there and fight them.