I don’t know witch way this review will go!
Games with pixel graphic styles are absolutely everywhere right now. The appeal of creating a new game using a retro graphical style seems to be quite the draw for developers (especially indie ones) these days. In some cases it’s due to lack of artistic talent, in many it’s an active design decision that plays to the games strengths. Witchinour is certainly in the second category, and whilst flawed, there is a good deal of fun to be had here.
You play as Nour, a witch who has lost her spellbook in a dungeon and must shoot all the things to reclaim it. This is another example of a game that doesn’t really need a story but plonks one in anyway just to give a context for all the monster shooting. Anyway, the game begins by you selecting a character as well as a pair of spells to take with you. Initially you are limited to a single character and two spells but over time more will be unlocked, giving you different starting stats and abilities as well as more ways to fight enemies and protect yourself.
The game itself is a twin stick rogue-lite game, with the mouse handling shooting and spells whilst the keyboard handles movement. Enemies will swarm you fairly quickly, with melee enemies charging in whilst ranged ones will pepper you with fairly slow moving shots. These are fairly easily handled and once all foes have been defeated the exit will open up. After a few levels a boss will appear before you move onto the next (randomly selected) zone to face the next set of opponents. At the top of the screen is an “Alert” bar which will gradually increase over time. When it reaches a certain threshold the enemies will become considerably more threatening, but defeating them quickly will reduce it a little. Your character will level up after a certain number of kills and will allow you to unlock a new passive ability to assist you in your progress.
My first impressions of the game were not good, being repeatedly faced with a blank screen upon loading the game. After a quick trip to the forums I found that the game needed to be run in compatibility mode for some reason, but this resolved the issue (although I did find I was unable to use Steam to take screenshots). The initial screen of the game has a faux CRT filter to give the impression of playing an old arcade game. This visual style hurt my eyes and made it difficult to see clearly but was easily switched off. Not a great start! However, once the game got started I was having a much better time.
Your character moves very quickly and the controls were responsive enough to keep up and the enemies went down in droves early on. This changes quite quickly though, as once the alert level starts to rise your opponents become much tougher, moving faster and firing more bullets. The game can rapidly descend into a bullet hell shooter and those responsive controls become something of a godsend. I often found myself wishing for a dodge roll ability, and whilst there is a teleport spell, it’s tied to your mana meter (which is rather meagre) and can only be used a few times. The spells are fairly varied (the first two you have are fairly weak) and allow you to customise your playstyle somewhat. I often went for one defensive and one offensive once I had a good number of them unlocked, giving me options for different situations and increasing my survivability against bosses. The leveling up system reminded me of Downwell to an extent, with a number of random options to choose from upon exiting the stage. This means that you get something useful, but it’s not always something that plays to your characters strengths and, like Downwell, a poor collection of options can mean you may as well quit your run there and then. This is a problem with a lot of rogue-likes/lites of this style, but due to the quick play time of a run it rarely became a bother.
Witchinour is incredibly difficult though (either that or I’m old and rubbish these days), and I often found myself struggling to get far into the second zone. Completing it is possible (and unlocks a new difficulty mode) but it’s a huge challenge to do so. You’ll need a combination of tremendous skill and a fair bit of luck to get upgrades that you need to survive, but getting further each time does give you a sense of accomplishment even if you don’t emerge victorious.
Graphically it looks very blocky, but everything is clearly defined and stands out from the crowd. I found the camera a little too close a lot of the time meaning I couldn’t always see what I was shooting at, but there are items to collect that can increase the view distance so this may be a deliberate decision. The screen can become very crowded with enemies and bullets at times but it’s normally pretty clear what is going on. The sound is fine but didn’t really stand out (although the sound of enemies parrying your shots was really rather good) in any particular way.
Witchinour is a fun little diversion, and one that I will probably dip in and out of from time to time when I have a spare 15 minutes or so. Hopefully I’ll start to get a little better at it as getting murdered by orcs after 5 minutes can be a little depressing. It’s certainly a good little diversion if you’re looking for a challenge, and at £4 you can’t really go far wrong.