Ritual: Crown of Horns
Developed By : Draw Distance
Published By : Feardemic
Category : Twin-Stick Shooter
Release Date : Nov 07, 2019
Twin-Stick shooters aren’t exactly uncommon, especially when it comes to indie games. Aside from some visual changes, it can often be hard to differentiate entries in the genre from one another, and they often lack enough content to stay interesting for more than a few hours. Ritual: Crown of Horns mixes in a few different mechanics in an attempt to make it stand out from the crowd. It’s certainly unique, though a lack of polish and an inconsistent difficulty curve hinder what could have been a great game.
Set in a demonic version of the Wild West, you follow bounty hunter Daniel Goodchild’s quest for revenge against the cult that killed him. With the help of a witch he was initially sent to hunt, he’s brought back to life with otherworldly powers, and the two set off to free America from the cult’s influence. It’s a very simple story that only features a handful of characters, but it does a decent enough job of giving context for the bloodbath that’s about to happen. After a while the dialogue did start to grate though, and it was hard to really care about the backstory for each mission.
Most missions in Ritual: Crown of Horns have you protecting the witch from waves of enemies until enough time has passed. Goodchild can equip up to three weapons, from a basic revolver to shotguns and crossbows. The weapon system takes a little time to click due to a few factors. The first is that you have to hold down ZL to aim instead of just using the right analogue stick, which can be a little awkward when using joy-cons. Furthermore, some weapon types automatically lock on to enemies, a few also giving a damage bonus if you stay locked on for enough time. You’d think it would be a helpful feature, but it has a tendency to lock onto enemies that are far away instead of ones right next to you.
One facet of gunplay that actually works is reloading. Having to stop and reload can often be a nuisance in faster paced games, but here weapons reload when you’re not using them. This lets you use a gun until it’s empty, then switch to another while the previous one reloads. You have more of an incentive to use all three of your weapons, even if they have a small ammo capacity or long reload time, since you’ll be able to pump out more damage if you switch weapons constantly. It’s just a shame that the weapon selection is rather plain, with some of them being relatively useless.
The other major part of your arsenal is a selection of spells. Souls are collected from slain enemies, being used to perform a short dash or, more importantly, cast the spells you’ve equipped before a mission. These somewhat make up for the more grounded weaponry, letting you freeze enemies or summon a vortex. However, having to spend souls means that there isn’t much of a reason to use multiple spells. In fact, once we got the gatling spell, which places a turret down for a certain amount of time, we just ignored every other spell for the rest of the game.
A lack of interesting weapons and spells isn’t the main issue with gameplay though. Most of Crown of Horns’ problems lie in the levels and enemy types. As mentioned earlier, the majority of levels have you protecting the witch from enemies. This means that, a lot of the time, the monsters you’re fighting aren’t actually interested in you. Instead, they slowly move towards the witch’s location, only being slowed down by the occasional destructible barrier. Because of this, many levels can easily be completed by waiting near the witch and mowing down enemies with little effort required.
On the other hand, some levels can be much harder due to an increase in enemies that go after you instead. Most of these types of enemy can be killed rather easily, only taking a single hit from your revolver. However, occasionally a level’s objective is instead to defend yourself instead of the witch. During these you’re usually stuck in a smaller arena, having to kite fast moving monsters while picking a few off at a time. It’s certainly faster paced than the regular levels, but these levels are still not as exciting as more traditional twin-stick shooters.
Honestly, the game’s biggest problem is that it’s just not very interesting most of the time. At the start it feels like defending against so many enemies will be challenging, but their poor AI combined with stronger weapons like the shotguns makes it remarkably easy. The hardest levels end up being the few boss fights, and that’s usually only because of how many enemies infinitely spawn. There are challenge versions of levels that give you bonus objectives to complete, but there’s little reason to do these other than for the sake of 100% completion.
As a Switch port, Crown of Horns is also nothing amazing. There are noticeable framerate drops and stuttering when groups of enemies spawn, especially when playing handheld mode. The game’s visuals can make it hard to tell what’s going on as well, with entrances to buildings often blending in with the walls. Loads times are also very poor, taking more than 20 seconds to load a level or even the hub area. When you’re consistently clearing levels which only last a few minutes, these loading screens start to add up.
Ritual: Crown of Horns is far from a terrible game, but it also doesn’t do anything particularly well. The AI is easily exploited, and most of the difficulty comes from being trapped with an endless wave of enemies. It’s hard to recommend this over games like Assault Android Cactus and Nuclear Throne, the former offering better designed levels and both having more interesting weaponry and overall gameplay.
*The Switch Effect was provided a code for this game*