The Knight Witch
Developed By: Super Mega Team
Published By: Team17
Category: Metroidvania, Shmup
Release Date: 11.29.22
Today’s game, The Knight Witch, is a unique and very cool blend of two different genres – shmups and Metroidvanias. The gameplay concepts are solid, even if the execution can be a little rough. Overall, however, I greatly enjoyed most of the ideas the game presented. Mostly. While I liked a lot of what it was trying to accomplish, The Knight Witch also contains an area that rivals the dam level of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES as the most frustrating level in the history of games. First, let’s talk about one of the game’s strong points – the story.
Rayne of the Knight Witches
Fourteen years ago, four powerful mages known as the Knight Witches defeated the last ruler of the Daigadai dynasty to free what remained of the world’s population. With the surface left uninhabitable by the Daigadai’s machinery, the survivors of the war moved into Dungeonidas, an ancient, subterranean city powered by mysterious technology. Rayne, who was supposed to be the fifth Knight Witch but couldn’t pass the training, is separated from her husband during an attack on Dungeonidas by unknown assailants using Daigadai war golems. It’s up to Rayne to find her husband, identify her attackers, and finally fulfill her potential as a Knight Witch.
The story is full of secrets, lies, half-truths, twists, and turns. It is engaging on every level, from its grand main plot to its three-dimensional characters. Rayne’s journey is intensely personal and rewarding, and will resonate deeply with anyone who has ever been told or felt like they weren’t good enough or that their dreams are out of reach.
The Knight Witch is built around a rock-solid, really freakin’ cool blend of shmups and Metroidvanias. There’s no platforming since Rayne can fly, but there are multiple paths, hidden areas, and puzzle doors which offer plenty of opportunity for exploration. The maps aren’t the most complex I’ve ever seen, but they’re good-sized and full of enough collectibles and secrets to be satisfying to explore. Rayne’s movement speed leaves a little to be desired, which does make some of the backtracking you’ll have to do feel more tedious than it needs to, but whatever. It’s a very minor quibble in the grand scheme of the game.
Combat is far more satisfying all-around – at least it is after you unlock the dash-dodge. Why they wait until the end of the second world (that’s about a third of the way into the game) to introduce one of the game’s core combat elements is a questionable choice, but whatever – once you get it the combat really clicks into place. The basic attack has a 360 degree firing arc which you can control with the right stick, or if you don’t touch the stick your attack will auto-target at reduced efficacy. The game doesn’t really say how reduced, but I didn’t notice much of a difference, honestly.
It’s in the Cards
Rounding out your arsenal are the spell cards. You can collect them from around levels or beating boss enemies and construct a deck of six cards to actually use. Only three can be in your hand at one time, and you need to have enough mana to pay the card’s cost. Mana is randomly dropped by defeated enemies and certain crates. It also get refilled at save points (that all goes for your health points, too). Cards can do massive damage, stun enemies, block attacks, or alter your basic attack, among other things. They’re extremely useful, but it’s a little hard to effectively keep track of what cards you have. When combat really gets heated there isn’t enough time to check your cards and mana and keep track of Rayne and all the bullets flying around the screen.
A Link to the Populace
You can strengthen Rayne in a few ways. First, you can collect certain items that will bestow more health or mana points or have other beneficial effects. There are temporary armor power-ups you can buy from shops scattered around the map, too. You also have the link system. Part of the in-game lore is that Knight Witches have more power the more people believe in them. Therefore, when you help others, your link level raises. You can raise your link level by rescuing captured villagers hidden around every map. In a more interesting mechanic, you also hold press conferences after every level, and the answers you give will grant you link bonuses. Press conferences seem to reward lying for sake of morale, but – light spoiler – lying may haunt you later on. Just sayin’.
Shuffling It All Together
Taken together, the exploration, shump combat, and card system make for a robust but challenging game. Combat feels incomplete and a little lopsided before the air dash shows up, as there really is no reliable way to dodge waves of bullets before you get it. There are cards that will block bullets, but they are only useful if they are in your hand, you have enough mana to use it, and you know it’s there in the first place. But once that dash is there, the combat is far more fluid and feels like results are based on your skill regardless of the cards you draw. But even though the dash makes things feel more equitable, the game still isn’t easy. Things feel truly challenging, as opposed to occasionally frustrating before acquiring the dash. Well, except for one part…
Mirror Lake? It Felt Like I Was At Camp Crystal Lake
Normally, a little diversity in gameplay strategies is a good thing. The area called Mirror Lake in The Knight Witch is an example of when diversifying gameplay goes horribly wrong. The basic gameplay is built around a 360 degree firing arc, but Mirror Lake often forces you into a submarine that reduces you to a straight line of fire. You also lose your dash ability, meaning you can’t dodge. This turns every underwater ambush fight less into a test of skill and strategy, and more into a test of the limits of your masochism by eliminating two pillars of the game’s basic gameplay elements and giving you nothing in return.
You can’t continuously fire on tough enemies since you have to move above and below them to dodge. If they happen to lay down impenetrable walls of fire, you can’t dodge them. You might be able to block them, if you have the right cards and enough mana. However, mana is harder to come by because you can’t defeat enemies as quickly with limited firing lanes. By the thirtieth time I was getting my ass kicked by certain encounters I was begging for a lower difficulty option but none is available. I appreciate games that try to expand their experience by varying their mechanics, but Mirror Lake doesn’t expand anything. Instead, it heavily subtracts from the normal gameplay mechanics in a supremely frustrating way. It would be less of a big deal if Mirror Lake wasn’t about a quarter of the game, but as is it’s an imbalanced slog that soured my whole experience.
Alright, I feel bad about that last section. Mirror Lake seriously pissed me off, but I liked basically everything else about the game – especially the art direction. The Knight Witch features stunningly gorgeous and wonderfully vibrant graphics that leap off the screen. The characters and backgrounds are impeccably designed and rendered. I could fly around exploring and appreciating the beauty of the world of The Knight Witch for hours. The music is quick and either intrepid or inviting, whichever fits the scene, but it never gets grating or overly repetitive – even if you’re repeating the same freakin’ underwater ambush fight for like the eight billionth time. Whew. Sorry. Lost it for a second there.
A Good Game With a Bad Level
I wanted to really love The Knight Witch. It has such a great story, pretty graphics, and its gameplay genres blend together well. I’m glad I stuck with it all the way, even despite the massive frustration I experienced with that one level. But honestly I would have walked away well before the end if I didn’t have a review to write. This makes The Knight Witch a pretty tough game to score, or to recommend wholeheartedly. It’s worth checking out for the parts that work – which is most of the game, really – but the lowest part is one of my most-hated gaming experiences… well, ever. Still, if you’re ready to accept the challenge of one supremely frustrating level there’s a great story to be told in The Knight Witch. I’ll always readily recommend the latter.
Buy The Knight Witch
Digital – $19.99
Follow Super Mega Team
The Switch Effect was supplied a game code for review purposes.