When one thinks of “bullet-hell” games, the first thing that usually comes to mind is fast-paced, hectic gameplay. One rarely, however, remembers the stories of these games. ITTA, developer Glass Revolver’s debut game, fuses intense bullet-hell gameplay with an intriguing story that ends up outshining its mechanics, creating an experience I was not expecting.
Childhood is a time of wonder, joy, and discovery. In ITTA, however, a young girl is thrown into a mysterious world full of horror and despair without much hope. Stolen from her home, Itta wakes up in a strange cave with the bloodied bodies of her brother, father, and cat nearby. Confused and horrified, she is quickly soothed by a guardian spirit that takes the form of her cat, arms her with an astral revolver, and sends her out into the world.
ITTA plays out like a surrealist indie film that grabs your attention for three hours then leaves you with more questions than answers. The game’s world, known as “the garden,” is full of memorable and creepy characters, most of which you don’t learn much about other than one or two interactions upon initially meeting them.
The one thing connecting everyone in the garden is a looming sense of loss and hopelessness. No one here is full of despair outright; they almost all have come to peace with their hellish situations, awaiting the moment that they become wandering spirits and forget all facets of their original lives. The garden and all of its inhabitants enthralled me, and I was desperate to learn more about the world developer Jacob Williams crafted. Though not much is explicitly explained, the little that I did get was enough to keep me playing.
This is not to say that ITTA isn’t fun to play; it certainly is. The game mashes together fast-paced bullet-hell gameplay with a gauntlet of 18 bosses to deliver some truly stress-inducing battles. Most bosses in ITTA can be tackled in whatever order players wish. If you get stuck on a particular boss, it might be best to move on to another one and come back later.
This Legend of Zelda like freedom, is one of the best features. Itta’s quest takes place over three different maps, which each have hidden secrets scattered throughout. Some of these are ancient texts that help flesh out the world and give some cryptic context to the plot while others are upgrades that make Itta a better fighter.
Unlike most games that reward the player with upgrades after finishing fierce enemies or progressing to a specific part of the game, all of ITTA’s upgrades are almost entirely missable. For instance, you start the game with only two hearts in your health bar and, if you were never to explore outside of the boss areas, you would never gain any more health. The same could be said for most of the eight unlockable weapons. As far as I can tell, three of them are necessary to finish the main story, but others might never be found; I personally was missing three of them when I completed the game.
After beating the final boss, going back into the world to find these missed upgrades and weapons is pretty much the only thing to do. Sadly, aside from rechallenging the final boss, there doesn’t seem to be any way to take on the rest of the bosses with your newfound upgrades, which is a shame. Seeing as how finishing the game and collecting everything took me about four hours, a new game plus would’ve been a welcome addition.
ITTA has a few technical issues that I encountered. The game takes an absurd amount of time to start, with a black screen sitting on my Switch’s screen, making me question if the game was even working. Once you get past this, however, none of the other load screens felt unnecessarily long.
Seeing as to how ITTA is a bullet hell game at heart, the screen is typically filled with hundreds of projectiles. During a few of the more hectic encounters, the frame rate noticeably dropped. Additionally, about halfway through my first playthrough, the game crashed, forcing me to restart the fight.
Design-wise, ITTA is a real marvel. The game features genuinely stellar pixel art, with character designs ranging from simple to incredibly complex. Itta, for example, has an incredibly minimalistic design, but it shows her innocence and purity. Most of the bosses in (as well as creatures you encounter in the overworld) have much creepier, detailed designs. The characters paired with the three distinct areas make ITTA a real treat for the eyes.
One thing I’d like to mention is that ITTA’s difficulty doesn’t seem to get higher in the later boss fights. Instead, I felt that the matches became easier after the first battle. I’m not sure if this is due to the upgrades I acquired or through practice.
If you find yourself enthralled by ITTA’s story but can’t seem to get the hang of the combat, the developer added two accessibility options to ensure that everyone who wants to see the end of the game can. Players have the option to either turn on damage multipliers that makes enemies easier to kill or turn on invincibility which, obviously, makes you invincible. While I didn’t find the game all that difficult, it is significant that these options are here for those that might need them.
I found myself unexpectedly invested in the story of ITTA; its dark themes and mysterious characters held my attention throughout its short campaign. Aside from a few technical issues and the lack of a real postgame, ITTA is a bullet-hell experience that will quickly satisfy any craving you might have for the genre. Seeing as how this it’s the developer’s first game, I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
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