Bullet Witch (360) – Review

Bullet Witch - CoverBullet Witch, developed by cavia, inc, and distributed by Atari Europe, is a third-person shooter in the vein of some classic cabinet video games such as Time Crisis, with many gameplay elements that suggest an arcade-like feeling. While the core gameplay seems to have several good ideas, there are many technical problems with the presentation of the game and other questionable decisions made in the gameplay that make this title difficult to judge. It’s definitely not a game that everyone is going to be able to enjoy.

Story: B

The game starts in 2013, after about 5 years of the wrath of demons and the like ravaging the earth and leaving the human population less than 1/6th of what it was in 2006. Mutated beings called the Geist have become a organized armed force and are wiping out the rest of the humans in some unnamed American city. That is, until Alicia, a young witch, appears in the city. Armed with her magical gun and spells, along with a strange voice in her head, she helps the humans flee the Geist but she’s definitely looking for something else, a way to stop the plaque and why it’s tied directly to her own past.

The concept is interesting but the plot reveal is about as subtle as a freight train, and it’s nothing that really hasn’t been seen before; the “magic” part of things are basically a means to explain away some of the gameplay issues. Most of the story is told through pre-rendered cut scenes with a handful done using the in-game engine, but all take a few moments from gameplay to explain what’s happening. Given that this is primarily an arcade action shooter, there’s not much more to the game’s story besides this.

Bullet Witch - Screenshot

Gameplay: B-

The game plays much as most third person arcade shooters, with a definite strong emphasis on arcade. You control Alicia as she takes care of dealing with the evil forces that have taken over the world. Her “gun” (which unquestionably looks like a perverted broomstick) can be transformed into one of 4 weapons, the default machine gun, a shotgun, a rifle, and a Gatling gun. Her ammo is created magically (for real!) so that you don’t have to worry about running low on ammo, only mana. Health regenerates as well as mana, though after casting a spell, you may have to kill a few foes to get back to your maximum amount of mana.

Spells are called up through the left bumper trigger through three different sets of powers. The first set is set for quick action powers: a temporary wall, roses that create spears to pierce foes, and the like. The second set is more effect magic, including a healing spell for friendly NPCs and a way to enhance the gun to shoot elemental magic as well as bullets for a short time. The final set of spells are the most powerful and are unlocked over the course of the game. Lightning calls down such to blow away tanks and barriers; Torando can literally rip the level apart as it tears through buildings, and Meteor basically calls down a huge meteor shower. Each of these last spells is extremely powerful and will readily leave you on the low mana side, so they have to be used carefully.

When you work through the 6 levels, you’ll get a ranking at the end of each level depending on how many innocents you saved, how often you died, and so forth. Higher ratings give you more skill points to use into powering up weapons, spells, and increasing the regeneration of health and mana through 3 levels each. Similar to Dead Rising, these improvements carry through every game you play, even if you restart a new game, so it is possible to power up a lot early on. There’s 4 difficulty levels (the last one not revealed until you beat the hardest through once) to make the challenge much harder.

The level design is primarily linear. Three of the levels feature beings called “Walnut-Heads” due to their large misshapen heads that put up force fields that you can’t cross until you destroy the being, and thus forcing you into a specific path along the game. A few levels offer one of two ways of going around something, but this makes little difference overall. Most of the levels feature a final boss character, with the ultimate boss being an extremely huge PITA that can take over a half hour of gameplay (more than 10% of the overall playtime) to take out, just because of how beefed up he is. This, to me, is probably a huge problem with the game, as there are some checkpoints in the game, but the final boss’s various forms do not have mid-change checkpoints, which means if you spend 20 minutes and get close to the boss’s death, and then accidentally die yourself , you have to play that all over again. This, I can tell you, is not a fun prospect.

While 6 levels is pitifully small for what most would call a good game, Bullet Witch to me feels like a cabinet arcade game brought home, and thus one complete “playthrough” should be possible in a single seating. This seems consistent with the focus on getting good rankings for completing levels and the minimal incorporation of Xbox Live for global high score list tracking. The game is meant to be easily jumped into and to that end it works. It’s definitely not meant to be a deep single-player experience, but it also lacks some of the features that would have been nice if it was considering itself a classic Arcade shooter. I’d much rather see continues from the point where you died instead of the last checkpoint (which still count against you in the level’s final score) particularly given how long distances between some checkpoints are, and this game almost screams for co-op play. At least a good part of all the levels are destructible, which results in some pretty impressive explosions, and the physics engine can be used to your advantage (dropping a water tower on a foe located out of reach, for example).

Bullet Witch - Screenshot

 

There’s other issues with the game; there’s no auto-aiming but you do have a narrow target that generally guaranties a hit, yet there seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies with how my bullets would affect the same type of soldier from the same distance. Some times, a single shot would do it, another time would require me to empty the entire ammo clip into it. The enemy AI is simplistic, and the only challenge really just becomes in their accuracy and their numbers. The Lightning spell has a few problems associated with it, notable because of its frequent use. First, you have to be able to line up your shot with it once you cast it without moving, leaving you vulnerable to attacks; none of the other spells have this aiming period with them. Furthermore, Lightning is bound to be the spell you’ll cast the most to take care of tanks, but it starts with a 5 second long effect scene that, while cool once, gets really boring really fast. There’s a one-shot-kill sniper enemy in the game that you get a red laser tracker on your head if he’s aiming your way, giving you time to get behind cover, but I could have sworn that I died from this foe without seeing that tracker. There’s other quibbles with gameplay that I just can’t put an exact finger on, but as a result, the game isn’t really that fun at times.

Value/Replayability: C+

Completing all 6 levels takes about 5 hours at most, on moderate difficulty, but the game is set up to encourage you to run through all the difficulty levels based on the Achievement Points and to get the best scores via the Xbox Live high score tracker. Unfortunately, there’s little change in how the levels work out, just that the foes become much harder. The game does get a bit of credit: the original sales price for the game was cheaper than comparable next-gen titles, suggesting the publishers knew of the limited gameplay within the title. There’s indication that there will be additional downloadable content available through Xbox Live in the way of additional outfits and missions on the pre-existing levels.

Graphics: C+

While the game does look good in still shots and produces rather impressive explosions, the actual gameplay shows significant slowdown as you play the game, particularly when you’re in an area with lots of destructible objects and enemies on the screen; this itself is sufficient to cause enough slowdown to possibly kill you. There’s also strange effects with shadows and clipping in several places. While detail in some parts of the game look good, other parts feel like simple Quake maps or the like, with both blocky features and repeating architecture.

Audio: B

The music is fine, with good dramatic effects in place for the larger battles. The environmental sounds are fine too. The voice acting, on the other hand, is not great; the characters are either over-the-top, or too subdued to fit their roles.

Overall: C+

Bullet Witch feels, to me, like an attempt to take advantage of modern gameplay mechanics to create a console version of a cabinet video game. Some of the core elements are fine, but there’s several problems with other parts of gameplay and in the technical presentation that really hurt the title. My feelings are that there are probably a few gamers out there that will enjoy this game, but they are in a significant minority compared to most gamers. I highly recommend trying this as a rental before buying it, even if used, just to see how the game plays out for you.

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