Witch & Hero (3DS) review
"Ain't we just."
So... Witch & Hero begins on a humiliating note, with the titular characters barely surviving their encounter against the heinous Medusa; Hero got the snot kicked out of him without much effort, and Witch succumbed to petrification. What originally started as a "quick and easy" task in exchange for a large money reward, turned into the darkest hour for the pair. But, due to the courageous, burning soul within, Hero manages to escape while dragging a solidified Witch safely to a nearby island. From there, Hero will travel many a terrain, fight hordes of monsters and beasts, and gain experience and money to become stronger, all in a vengeful attempt to overthrow Medusa in a decisive second confrontation.
Because you messed with the wrong Witch, and it's time for a Big Damn Hero moment.
Dramatization aside, Witch & Hero is something that can easily tug on the expectations of oldschool gaming fans when they stumble onto its existence. A game whose graphics resemble 8-bit, pixelated aesthetics? Ohhhhh. A fantasy setting with armored soldiers, magic users, and mythical creatures? Ahhhhh. A self-proclaimed action title with an overhead perspective? Goodness gracious. Based on those descriptions alone, one can simply deduce the game sounds faintly similar to The Legend of Zelda, which is not a bad thing at all. Except, it's not even close. Upon further research, or, hey, if you made an impulse purchase, it's immediately apparent what genre the game really belongs to.
For those who didn't flee this review in horror after seeing those two words, your role as Hero is to defend Witch, positioned in the center of a single, non-scrolling area, against creatures coming from outside the screen's borders. Since you're decked out in armor and donning a sword, one would think you can just run up and start violently slashing enemies, ranging from green blobs to poisonous snakes, with the might of your button mashes. Defying expectations again, Witch & Hero's combat system simply involves your character bumping into enemies to inflict damage... all while receiving damage at the same time. Basically: how do you feel about playing an oldschool Ys game where each stage is a single screen?
Okay, for the two remaining readers still around, despite the game sounding woefully generic, especially for a tower defense title, it has real depth to it. This isn't immediately obvious for the first two or so stages, when happy-go-lucky blue blobs and wicked pumpkins slowly creep towards Witch, but when enemies start requiring tons of hits to defeat, and they pack the screen from all corners, you actually need to use certain abilities in a more obvious, responsible way. Hit enemies from behind for greater damage and less pain for yourself; save that healing potion busted from a chest for later; if you're going to lose your last inch of health and go into a brief daze, intentionally lose it when there's no one close to Witch.
Easier said then done, as various enemies of distinct strength and speed start showing up in droves later. It's going to be much harder to provide security for your encased magician, and failure to complete this task is the halved deduction of all experience and money collected from that specific stage. Not to mention, makes it difficult to buy upgrades for strength, protection, and speed... However, the game attempts to even the odds by introducing the most crucial defense to your plight: Witch! By collecting monster blood from fallen opponents and physically giving them to her to fill a meter, she can be freed temporarily from her petrified prison, unleashing a flurry of wind attacks or a slew of fireballs, swapped at your discretion.
Once Witch becomes available, the game definitely takes a more strategic, multitasking slant when it comes to the pair's survival. Do NOT underestimate her usefulness, as she can help you out of many a bind, destroying slow, powerful enemies from a distance before they pose a threat, or even slaughter a group up close, all while you wipe hordes in the opposite direction. If you time it right, too, you can collect more blood as she's draining her magic bar, immediately freeing her with the gathered blood the moment the attack period ends. Hell, there have been many an instance in my playthroughs where Witch completed a stage all on her own while Hero was dazed on the ground.
Despite the often engrossing gameplay, specific flaws put a damper on the experience. I do feel its pacing falters during the latter half of the meager 20-stage journey, since, while the game does get more aggressive, it doesn't really add anything new or worthwhile to the fray. For example, as soon as you gain another special ability, allowing both Witch and Hero fleeting super strength, only a scant selection of stages take advantage of it. Almost as if it was an afterthought. Though, I guess the time trial and survival unlockables is a kind of answer? Also, due to the nature of collecting money for item upgrades, there's a bit of grinding to do, which isn't to everyone's liking, I'm sure. It's not really intrusive and time-exhausted, but it exists.
Ultimately, Witch & Hero's biggest sin is that there just isn't more of it. Like, an extra 10 or so stages and a bit more enemy attack variation would have been welcomed. What is there is surprisingly engaging, which is a tower defense title that has been stripped to its very core, and manages to make an entertaining game around that. I entered a skeptic, but in the end, even with flaws present, I left yearning for a Witch & Hero 2...
Community review by dementedhut (January 29, 2016)
Rules of nature.
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