Witch & Hero
3DS Download | CIRCLE Entertainment / Flyhigh Works | 1 Player | Out Now | $3.99 / £3.60
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17th April 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Really, the only incentive to even investigate its framework in the first place is the old-school vibe stemming from the game's chosen art style. Investing under this notion of the presentation paying dividends in the gameplay mechanics will only lead you to feeling betrayed, not because the game outrageously dismisses its alignment with the heyday of certain legacy platforms, but rather because it doesn't mask the nominal stature that so quickly finds itself reaching for something of greater value but with nothing legitimate to clutch.
Since it is its most "attractive" characteristic, I'll first address the presentation. For what it is, Witch & Hero is entirely of a heavily retro-inspired make, resulting in a throwback that is fully embodied (though diluted to a certain extent) from the music to the graphics and enemy behaviours. The game makes no use of 3D, instead plastering flat templates to simulate ground terrain for cosmetic scenery changes, and using two-state sprite work to drive home its simpler vision. The main characters naturally have a bit more work done to them, with the unnamed knight spinning around in a daze when his ally is defeated, as if saying "I've let 'er downnnnnnnn!" without actually muttering those words.
Music fit for a dungeon crawler is what the soundtrack consists of but with a dash of classical overtones, characteristics that will no doubt call to mind specific examples belonging to the era of the Game Boy and earlier. With all of this taking center stage, it's not a surprise, then, why this blanketed look would carry weight with someone who grew up on what would now be regarded as classics. It in many ways functions as a tribute in this capacity, but it does so without having something distinct in mind, hence why it wouldn't make much sense for me to make mention of specific reference points (though I do have some vague ideas).
At its core, Witch & Hero is an action game with a real-time tower defense gameplay mechanic that, while on the surface doesn't present itself to be much of an interesting blend, does just enough to provoke a pinch of curiousity. Adding to this is an RPG element brought on by an experience system that governs your character's main stats of HP and MP (developed by picking up green gems during battle), while the strength of your default attributes and special abilities are all determined by investments made at the in-game shop, using coin picked up from downed enemies and treasure chests you pry open.
The focus remains on this relationship between two heroes, one being subject to a curse that she can only break free from temporarily with the help of her ally. Like an egg that needs protecting, you use the Circle Pad or +Control Pad to move a shielded knight around the battlefield, engaging with waves of skeletons, sharks, bats and scorpions (among other enemies) from all sides of the screen simply by bumping into them. Be advised that after a while, the movements you make do put a strain on your thumb -- at least, that was true in my case. The most you'll discover in the way of depth is that you can attack enemies from behind for a critical hit -- indicated by a pink bruise, as opposed to a white one. When not doing so, you must be wary of frontal damage, with some enemies (e.g., vipers) inflicting more than others.
The effect of your approach is often a pinball-like, though less exaggerated. The exception to this is when you collide with treasure chests, which, while netting you more coin and occasional health beverages, cause a more substantial reverberation. Another key war spoil laid out over the floor are red droplets that must be manually escorted to your always-stationary companion, who after reaching a full amount of red energy will unleash a tornado storm or a fury of fireballs, with rotations for aiming mapped to L and R. After clearing Stage 11, souped-up versions of these attacks will become available (triggered by the Y Button), with the use limit being tied to a gauge in the form of a crown that grows with each bit of damage dealt.
In truth, Witch & Hero is a game with not a great deal under the hood. Though it doesn't petition for these characteristics, the game is devoid of glamour and sophistication, to the point of being frail. Yet, there is a saving grace that contributes to a very thin dynamic. There's a mannerism on the part of the game that suggests it is fully cognizant of its lack of magnitude and forcefulness, convincing the player to trust it will shape up. Part of what gets you is the increase in tension as more and more enemies chip away at the vulnerable hero in the center. There are times when you feel like urging the knight to reawaken after it faints from exhaustion. On a more important note, though, it's the sense of pacing and subtle layer of strategy that pushes the game forward, even while it remains largely unprogressive.
Besides just the differences in efficiency of the storm vs. fireball attacks, players are unfailingly faced with a dilemma in every single stage: Do you break away from the action in the center and risk having your immobilized companion swarmed? With a slight sense of abandonment, you must decide if you'll essentially go out on a brief "rescue mission," recovering energy pick-ups to temporarily reverse the hardened state of your partner or to snatch a health bottle you may have left alone earlier. There's also a risk that comes from attacking from behind, where stronger foes will actually be helped to move closer to your ally and may even land a hit before it is defeated. The other thing, too, is when you have boss creatures come in -- larger versions of existing smaller enemies. You always have more to gain from smaller enemies, so you may have to divert your focus away from the major threat for a time if it means getting an upper hand later when you're allowed use of your wind and fire abilities. These will also clear off remaining units and conclude the round, relinquishing you of the opportunity to retrieve pick-ups that may still be lying around, so it's also worth considering saving them until after you've done a full field sweep.
Spontaneity exists at all times, and this proves to truncate any inclination for the player to be calculating. Your ability to react decisively is tested by the time you reach the fourth stage, by which point enemies stream in at a pace that gradually grows later on to resemble that of a machine gun (albeit one that needs constant reloading). The flood of waves that turn up also show little sign of easing up, which causes panic to set in and the eyes of players to widen because of the menacing nature of what must be confronted. It is as a result of this sometimes brutal pace that Witch & Hero can be unfriendly in the midst of its approachable mechanics, throwing the quick comprehension out the window with a rather perceivable swiftness. What all this does is it forces players to replay levels already cleared for the sole purpose of grinding to receive funds for attribute upgrades. And though not as abrasive as the pacing itself, it's an inescapable aspect that, due to the draining effect that it has, will foreseeably prompt a hatred towards the game.
Thinking about the game as a whole, I personally didn't find the repetition too much to bear, which makes sense since the game is meant for short doses anyway. I won't hold back, however, that I absolutely despised the final boss -- and I don't use the word often. I mean, I lost count how many times I tried vanquishing it to no avail. The symptoms present and really the entire development is utter nonsense. It got to a point where I decided to no longer subject my thumb to what was ultimately a feat requiring more than it was worth, as I truly did not have the patience for the totally nutso climax. The crazy thing is that I had all stats maxed out while my standard character level was at Level 45, and the fact that I still was not able to defeat the boss is just ridiculous. And to be perfectly frank, after all the frustration and the senselessness of the whole situation, it made me vow never to play the game again.
I will say, however, that in separating the time it took just on that final stage, I was surprised how many hours I wound up spending. For me, that amounted to about five, which takes into account the many times of repeating completed levels to grind and level-up, just so I could stand a chance of clearing levels that presented cumbersome odds. It is my understanding (based on the manual) that Time Trial and Survival Mode become available, but I can't comment on whether or not this helps the game for the long-term. If I go by my own experiences, I'd have to say that the game isn't one you'll want to relive and continue to devote time to. It's more a one-way ordeal, to be honest.
Witch & Hero is a funny one. It tries to compensate for its design through its presentation, first and foremost, but also in conjunction with this are the tense feelings that come from being at the cusp of victory or bombarded by enemies, as you'll so often find yourself. Some of the methods it uses in this regard will be met with derision, in part because it relies on tactics that may well call to mind some of the worst aspects of the genres it pulls from. And to be frank, the game's overall disposition is one that will be too stale or abrasive for the greater number of players, with no real middle ground achieved. Saying that, the low-cost entry point may offer some reason to investigate its make, mindless and unsatisfying though it may be.
16/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 5/10 - Simplistic and archaic, blends genre elements together but isn't that interesting, pace prompts spontaneous actions, forced grinding
Presentation 6/10 - Transparent purpose of direction, a throwback in every way, lacks flair and excitement, diluted and flat in some respects
Enjoyment 2/5 - Will hate the game if you have a discrepancy with grinding, mindless and lacks depth, tension adds subtle strategy, unprogressive
Extra Content 3/5 - Meant for short doses, surprising length, two additional modes post-completion, not something you'll want to return to
Equivalent to a score of 53% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System