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The Legend of Dark Witch 2 (PC) artwork

The Legend of Dark Witch 2 (PC) review

"Turnabout Returns"

What's in a sequel? Ideally, the goal is to make one better than its predecessor, carrying over its good aspects and, if possible, improving on them. At the same time, trying to fix any problems that plagued the product in any way, and in doing so, ensuring the follow-up won't feel as bad as the precursor. In The Legend of Dark Witch's situation, its side-scrolling platforming stages featured uninspiring level designs with questionable, easy-to-hit enemy placements, nearly making the game a bore to play. Without the inclusion of surprisingly tough boss battles, where players need to perform constant, accurate jumping and dodging against aggressive attack patterns, there wouldn't have been anything noteworthy to mention outside the catchy soundtrack and cutesy, super deformed sprite art.

Dark Witch 2 had an opportunity to rectify these issues and create something thoroughly entertaining, if not special. "Had." It started well with the devs simply carrying over all mechanics and gimmicks from the previous title. Concepts such as gaining abilities from defeated bosses, using a Gradius power-up system where one grinds enough power from fallen foes to shift the meter towards a desired power-up, and a shop menu for purchasing upgrades. New features include a "rage" meter which builds up a special attack only when you're hurt enough times, the option to select from eight different stages over the previous game's six, and extra choices in the shop that allow you to buy shields and health refills.

Very promising, I thought. That thought didn't last very long. Dark Witch 2 disappointingly continues on with simple level designs filled with lackluster platform jumping and poor enemy placements, the latter which can be disposed of with effortless projectile shots from across the screen. What's irritating about this is the fact that players coming from the first game know what to do this time around, due to the exact same mechanic and combat system having transferred over; instead of figuring out the right power-up and upgrade combinations to use, that knowledge is already there. Unfortunately, because most levels are constructed in such a plain manner, well-versed players will downright bulldoze through stages without ever witnessing most enemies' abilities.

From my own experience, not being able to see enemy attacks, and in some cases, enemies, thanks to substandard structuring, is really annoying; like the first game, some enemies actually have interesting attacks, with the Japonesque Night stage being a prime example. In this location based on Japanese restaurants and bars (?), you have ninjas springing from cover to attack, samurais able to deflect projectiles, pigs that can transform your character temporarily into a defenseless, slow animal, and cats digging up mines. Sounds interesting, but the ninjas are badly hidden, the pigs can be destroyed across the screen, samurais only deflect when they attack between lenient waiting periods, and the cats... only dig up mines. They're all either spaced away from one another or move slowly, too. This stage could have been salvaged if multiple enemies were "working together" in tight, awkward spots.

There have been instances where I intentionally stopped attacking, stood beside enemies, and got injured on purpose... just to witness their attacks. That's how bad it got. What's really sad is that, while there are some interesting enemy attack patterns, there's not as many unique, memorable ones as in the original. Even after playing several stages multiple times, and jotting notes about said stages, I have a difficult time visually remembering enemies. Moreover, there's a ton of forgettable, lazy gimmicks. One stage has quicksand that barely sucks you into the ground, another allows you to destroy book stacks to create platforms that... are only used to find optional, hidden magic shards, and one makes you push boulders before abandoning the concept midway through its stage. Like... really? The first game didn't have the greatest gimmicks, but it at least tried.

Now for something that makes zero sense: the boss fights suck. Dark Witch 2 follows the same template of bosses switching between attack patterns, only to toss in additional, tougher attacks the closer you get to defeating them. However, the frantic, robust feeling of constantly being pinned into a corner that you need to delicately escape from with the use of precise coordination, is nearly absent in this sequel. Not only are a lot of the attacks nonthreatening and easy to dodge, but the speed at which they're thrown at you and the lack of delay between patterns has slowed down considerably. It's almost like I was playing on easy mode. The weirdest part? All this is based on me playing the game on the highest default difficulty setting.

I'm really not exaggerating here. One boss, for example, begins with a basic dash attack, which is followed by an attack where... you don't have to do anything; the second attack is a screen-wide, horizontal beam which is only effective if you jump. Just don't jump. Another boss literally stays on the right side of the screen, which would have been fine... if it weren't for the fact that three of her four attacks are borderline useless if you stand on the opposite end. The librarian from the first game returns as a boss, along with her inward, spreadshot blitz you have to jump out of. Though, instead of being a normal attack, it's now regulated to a "desperation" attack when her health is almost gone. On top of that, it's been handicapped by giving players more time to escape, as well as the attack dissipating the moment all five projectiles make contact with one another.

Once you reach the latter half of the game after defeating the main stages, it doesn't matter if a semblance of challenge starts rearing its head. By this time, your protagonist should have enough upgrades, with more powers, health, and lives, to void anything tossed your way. Thankfully, the climax is actually a hard battle; I would have been dumbfounded if it were a breeze. And as with the first, several bonuses centering around harder difficulty settings unlock after completing Dark Witch 2, such as an extra playable character with curved projectiles, and Lunatic mode allowing bosses to attack faster. Considering the core game is absurdly easy, on Expert difficulty no less, having these from the beginning would have been great. I shouldn't have to play a video game for X amount of hours before it finally becomes entertaining...

It just feels like, in the midst of creating a longer, bigger product with more visuals, more cutesy character designs, and throwing in a bunch of ideas without much forethought, that the devs forgot how to construct a video game. It's bizarrely simple. I'm not knocking casual games, either; there are some genuinely entertaining laid-back titles on the market, and this just isn't one of them. The Legend of Dark Witch 2 isn't easy-fun, it's just thoroughly, disappointingly boring.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (February 11, 2018)

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