The Metroidvania genre has always been open to including elements of shoot ‘em ups gameplay, and The Knight Witch capitalizes on the intersection of these two genres. Despite these two genres’ focus on gameplay over story, I was also surprised to see a wider focus on the story and world of The Knight Witch. The combination of these three elements made for an interesting experience.
The demo opens up with a re-telling of a past war, which opens up the perfect opportunity to let us test a fuller version of the gameplay mechanics before reverting us to the bare minimum. In the tutorial, you play as one of the titular Witch Knights, Robyn, in a war against an army of industrial golems. The tutorial stage teaches you less than what you’re equipped within that you will only learn how to move, shoot, and how to activate spells, but the scope here is somewhat larger.
The game controls like a typical twin-stick shooter, you will move around with one stick and aim with the other. However, the player has the option to not aim, as doing so will allow for auto-assisted aiming. After the tutorial stage, which is essentially a post-tutorial tutorial, you’ll learn that auto-aim does reduced damage and allows for quicker and easier re-targeting of enemies. Additionally, there is a dash, which would equate to a dodge roll in a standard Metroidvania. However, this will become unavailable after the tutorial stage.
After the tutorial stage, the game introduces the main character you’ll be playing throughout the story, who is former Witch Knight apprentice Rayne. While Rayne was an apprentice to The Knight Witch, she is much weaker than her teachers. This is the game’s explanation for removing all of the gear you had in the tutorial stage.
One of the key features of the game is the spell cards, which introduce light deck-building elements to the game. You can create a deck of cards of your choosing, and you activate them by consuming stored mana. To replenish mana during combat, you need to defeat enemies or cause enough damage to a boss to make more mana orbs drop. However, besides the basics, the demo did not have a good opportunity to really showcase how in-depth the deckbuilding could go, though trailers do show a lot more variety and options for usage.
In terms of gameplay during the demo, I did have a few qualms. The first problem is a mix between the movement speed and the open-level design. As you’re flying around the entirety of the area, the levels are extremely open. While the movement during combat is fine, moving around an area without the dash present in the tutorial stage proved to be tedious. Granted, the dash seemed to be overpowered in the tutorial stage, though I wished they would have implemented a less powerful form of movement. Additionally, when I reached an ambush level, I found that the map was too open, and I had to end up circling the level very slowly to find new enemy spawns. Altogether, it made the gameplay feel less tight and needlessly slow.
Another issue I had with the gameplay was the navigation assistance. I assume this was implemented for players who wanted to finish the story without any side distractions. This normally would be a great feature, but the navigation points in a straight line toward the destination. Being a Metroidvania, the rooms are not tied together in a linear fashion, and often require taking a curve or a detour in order to reach a destination. For the purpose of the demo, it was useful enough, but as the map begins to open up, the feature may be detrimental for players who solely want to experience the story.
Lastly, I found the implementation of purchasing the shield item from a shop to be pointless. I’m unaware of how shields will work later in the game, but when you purchase a shield, it is immediately applied to your health. These shields are applied for the initial hits, not as a last resort. Unless there will be an option to travel between shopkeepers before bosses or ambushes, it seems like buying these shields is a waste of the in-game currency, though there isn’t much to purchase within the demo.
Beyond the gameplay, the story offered a lot of backstory and foreshadowing, and I was genuinely interested in discovering the motives of the introduced characters. The demo ends with many unsolved mysteries, and I hope the full release resolves those plot points in a satisfying way.
Altogether, The Knight Witch finds a weird mix of engaging story and boss battles, but clunky and slow during actual traversal. While there is more gameplay variety in the full release, more so than what the tutorial stage offered, the demo itself did not do a good job demonstrating it. After the point where the demo leaves off, I am curious to see how quickly the game will pick up more options that liven up the gameplay. For people interested, the demo is roughly 40 minutes long and available on Steam.
The game will be released on November 29, 2022, for PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox systems.
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