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The Knight Witch is the latest from developer Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team. Historically, this team made up of veteran game developers from such titles as RiME, Moonlighter, and Plants Vs Zombies is known for two things: melding together game genres into uncommon combinations, and their Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic. In the past we have seen them add RPG mechanics and a story to a bust-a-move clone in the game Supermagical, as well as adding cover shooter mechanics to a side-scrolling action game in their last release, Rise & Shine. The Knight Witch certainly does not buck the trend here, however, this, time they may be serving up their best combination yet.
The game takes place after a great war in which a group of rebels rose up against a global superpower with the help of an elite team of magical warriors known as the Knight Witches. Though the rebels won in the end, the war devastated the surface world, causing the survivors on both sides of the conflict to forge a new society underground. With the previous world power defeated, a new government is formed, with the Knight Witches policing the population on behalf of this newly formed government.
You play as Rayne who, during this conflict, was in training to become a Knight Witch but was prevented from joining the battle due to inexperience. A lot of time has passed since the war, and relative peace has been restored to this new world. However, another conflict eventually comes to pass, and this time Rayne is called upon to finally test her skills as a Knight Witch.
The game itself is level based instead of a connected open world, where you are given a mission to take on via the game’s hub world. The missions themselves take place across the game’s various levels, which are all visually striking and distinct from one another. The art style as a whole is quite good, despite it being somewhat of a simplified cartoon look. Characters are all quite distinct and charming, including the enemies, making them stand out during the bullet hell storms you often find them in. Each level having its own musical theme was also a nice touch as they were all really well done.
There is a lot of world building and storytelling that takes place in the intro sequence, and it carries on through the rest of the game. There is much more here narratively than you would expect with this type of experience, with some surprising twists and socially relevant political themes on display. I did not expect to get as much out of the game’s narrative as I ended up with based on what’s typical in this genre, but I came away pleasantly surprised.
Once you leave the hub area and head into one of the game’s different locations, you will see all of the different game genres starting to come together. As a Knight Witch, you are able to freely fly around the game world, which provides a slightly different experience to many other Metroidvanias. Instead of relying on standard action platforming tropes like jumping big gaps, you will be trying to accurately fly through deadly narrow, twisting hallways. On top of environmental obstacles, though, you will also be dealing with countless enemies. While they start out pretty meager and easy to deal with, before long your screen will fill with projectiles that you will need to be constantly dodging. The multidirectional gameplay shines here as it drastically adds to the tension over its tube-shooter siblings like Ikaruga or Tempest, with enemies attacking from all directions.
Playing on a controller means you are controlling Rayne with the left stick and aiming your projectiles with the right. I did find it really weird to have the button for shooting be the right bumper instead of the triggers, though. I found that arrangement to be significantly more comfortable while playing and, thankfully, was able to remap it via the Xbox console settings. This is an option I would like to have seen in the game, though, as not every platform has the capability to remap controls like this.
While this is a pretty standard arrangement, it can be a bit difficult to remain on target while also consistently dodging the hell storm of bullets coming your way. Thankfully, the developers have included an auto aim system, which is a godsend. If you shoot without aiming, Rayne will automatically target whichever enemy is closest to you, allowing you to focus on dodging enemy attacks. The tradeoff here is that attacking enemies this way will have you deal reduced damage to them. As much as I tried to focus on manual aim, I eventually had to swallow my pride as the sheer volume of potential death on the screen became too much for me. The key becomes knowing when to aim whenever you have a clear opening and then relying on auto aim when you need to focus on survival. This back and forth was consistently fun throughout my playthrough as the game continued to throw different types of enemy combinations at me.
There is more to the combat than your basic attacks, though, as you have an arsenal of powerful spells at your disposal. In what is possibly the most unique aspect of the gameplay, you will have an assortment of spell cards that you assemble into a deck. You draw these spells three at a time and have a set amount of resources available to cast them. Every time you cast a spell, you will draw a new one from the deck, and defeated enemies will sometimes drop orbs that replenish the resource used to cast them. The spells range from upgrading your basic attack to be more powerful temporarily, to summoning a giant axe to do some heavy AoE damage. There are more defensive spells available as well that can stun enemies or create shields to block incoming projectiles. These spells are mandatory if you want to get through each level since there are some pretty decent difficulty spikes as you progress.
Exploring the world and defeating bosses will unlock new spells that you can use to build stronger decks. You also have the option to visit specific merchants that allow you to duplicate cards if they fit your playstyle, and there are some good options for customizing how your deck will function. You can also customize Rayne herself, as completing missions or rescuing townsfolk will increase your social “Link” to the population, essentially acting as XP and empowering you as a Knight Witch. Increasing your Link enough will level you up and give you an opportunity to choose to invest skill points into either combat prowess or how effective your magic cards will be.
In an interesting twist, upon completing a mission, you will head back to the hub world and need to report back to the leaders of the government. Since the Knight Witches are technically public-facing members of the government, you will need to have a press conference to report what took place on your mission. It is here where you are given a very interesting choice to explain clearly to the people what is happening in the story’s conflict, likely leading to civil unrest and panic.
Or you can lie by omission or sugar coat what is actually happening in an effort to keep the population happy and trusting in the government that rules over them. While lying may not be the morally correct thing to do, increasing the people’s faith in the government, and by extension the Knight Witches, will increase the amount of Link (XP) you gain. This is very reminiscent of the Bioshock games, where you have the option of sacrificing little sisters for personal gain or saving them for your own moral gain.
The Knight Witch is a story-driven, flying Metroidvania shoot ’em up deck builder RPG. You may think that is a weird combination that couldn’t possibly go together, like putting peanut butter on a hamburger. However, in both cases you would be wrong as these many different components come together to form a very pleasant experience that is more than the sum of its parts. Wrapped up in a nice-looking package with extra effort placed on narrative, The Knight Witch is a fine addition to the Metroidvania scene.