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The Legend of Dark Witch (PC) artwork

The Legend of Dark Witch (PC) review


"Turnabout"


It doesn't take long to realize the heavy influences taken from the Mega Man series, as this 2D side-scrolling platformer allows you to select six of eight stages in any desired order, are given the option to use bosses' abilities once they're defeated, and there's even a boss "title card" prior to the start of each stage. Oh, and guess what happens before confronting the final boss? Correct. While they were at it, the devs also did their own rendition of the Gradius power-up bar system, where you have to "grind" points from defeated foes until the bar highlights a power-up you actually want. All this within a universe where you control a witch fighting an excess of oddball opponents: women in mushroom hats, flying demon girls releasing heart projectiles from forks, and, at long last, fire-breathing muscled snow men in thongs.

As you might have noticed, this is a nonsensical journey, extending its buffoonery well outside just character designs. One stage is a huge library set outdoors beside grass and random water spouts, your protagonist is rarely called a witch, but constantly referred to as a god, and a solid 99% of the opposition aren't actually enemies. For the latter, you're literally breaking into locations, beating up inhabitants who are alarmed by your presence, and doing all this in the hope that questions are answered concerning the country's missing source of magic. Granted, it's done in a comical sense, but still. Those expecting something more grounded in their... um... fantasy-based witch games... might be bemused by the absurdity, but it's not a major issue; it's just weird.



Though, another weird thing, this one likely unintentional, is the leisure nature of level designs. Considering your witch has the power to fire projectiles across the screen, just like a certain blue robot, it's disconcerting that most enemy placements allow you to destroy foes the moment they appear on the opposite side of the playing field. And it's not like enemies suck, either; you have typical fodder opponents that run towards your protagonist, but there are interesting ones, such as cat women wielding axes as tall as houses, fish creatures that break into four smaller versions when hit, and hedgehogs exploding into spreadshot projectile attacks when destroyed.

It's just their placements could have used a bit more thought and imagination. For example, the men who throw three tridents simultaneously could have been placed on lone platforms unreachable to your attacks, thus forcing you to run underneath while dodging their attacks. The fish creatures also could have been placed at the top of steep, stair-esque platforms, making it difficult to dodge when they turn into four small fish. What's really odd is how the devs do similar placements in some stages with other enemies, but don't do it enough to improve these areas drastically. Furthermore, several stages have their own gimmicks, as one stage makes you hit switches to activate certain platforms, while another forces you to go up and down speed stripes positioned over pits. But, just as the game legitimately makes these gimmicks challenging after several baby steps, you're sent to the boss.

If Dark Witch was intended to be a casual experience, then fine. However, if that were the case... then why are the bosses tough? The first time I did a boss battle, I was genuinely thrown off at the turnaround from its lax stage design, and in the process, got completely destroyed and humbled. Then I eventually conquered that first boss after losing several lives. Then got completely destroyed by the subsequent boss fight. So on and so forth.



These frantic scuffles are truly the saving grace of the game, as they are heavily reliant on memorizing attack patterns that commonly force you into tight spaces in an already cramped arena. There's barely any breathing space between attacks, and they only become more aggressive and with new attacks being introduced when their health nears depletion. In one fight, you constantly have to jump out of an inward, five-directional projectile attack four times in a row, which segues into rapid laser attacks that change directions midway through their destination, which then segues into a flaming phoenix spitting flames towards your location; this is usually the point where the boss is at 40% health and you have one remaining hit before dying... That's one of the "easier" boss battles, as well.

Additional factors help in making these showdowns as tense as they are, with the biggest contributor being your small health meter: you lose a life in four hits. You don't even have any method for refilling health, which means you have to attempt a trek from the start of a stage to the boss with as much health as possible. If you get hit, then that's that; deal with it. You're able to spawn at the beginning of the boss after dying, but in doing so, you lose all power-ups gathered leading up to the fight. At this point, it becomes quite the uphill battle, as not only do you have to take on the boss and dodge all those tricky attack patterns, but also slowly fill up the power-up bar to gain the appropriate power. It's a juggling act, but a necessary one, because certain power-ups are vital for certain bosses, such as a speed boost to jump over obstacles quickly.

The differences between level and boss designs still boggles my mind so much, that I can't help think each aspect was designed by different people. Only the seventh stage, the last "full" stage before the final boss, feels genuinely fulfilling, as it mixes previous gimmicks and actually has some challenging enemy placements. This and the last stage were so much harder than the others, that I actually had to grind points to purchase extra strength, lives, and health just to make the experience easier. And they were still hard! Stranger still, beating the game unlocks an extra character that can't fire projectiles across the screen, requiring power-ups just to shoot midway. Certainly makes boss fights tougher, and I wish this was implemented and modified into the main game instead of being a bonus.



Oddities aside, The Legend of Dark Witch avoids being a substandard product purely on the basis of its boss encounters. Seriously, when I decided to give this a quick "test run" to see if I wanted to go through the whole thing, my eyes almost glazed over when playing it; I almost closed the game before reaching the first boss. That's how exceptionally average the level design felt to me. Glad I stuck with it till the end of said stage, as I would have been depraved of deserving ass-kickings from every first-time boss confrontation. Why is that a good thing? Because all the loses made each victory feel all the more gratifying.

3/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (February 08, 2018)

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