The Knight Witch Review: "Metroidvania Meets Bullet Hell"

The Knight Witch Review: "Metroidvania Meets Bullet Hell"
Images via Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team

Written by 

Harry Boulton

Posted 

28th Nov 2022 13:00

As an indie Metroidvania deck builder, The Knight Witch has to do quite a lot to stand out within a heavily congested market. While the base concept itself isn't going to take you by surprise, The Knight Witch does attempt to master the formula, while also introducing some new mechanics and features that might attract you further. So, to see how well The Knight Witch approaches a tried and tested formula, make sure to carry on reading down below for our full review.

Truth And Connection

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The Knight Witch begins with a spectacular flashback that lays the foundation of the narrative - the Knight Witches were a group of heroes that ended the war with the industrial Daigadai, and founded the city of Dungeonidas. However, years later there is an invasion from some reinvigorated Daigadai forces, and the Knight Witches are nowhere to be seen. It is now up to our protagonist and failed Knight Witch Rayne to pick up the mantle and save the city.

While nothing particularly outstanding in premise alone, The Knight Witch does delve into more thought-provoking themes of power imbalance, truth, and connection. Knight Witches gain power through the support of the people - otherwise known as 'link', and it is your choice at several points throughout the narrative whether to divulge the truth to the people that you protect, or to pepper them with lies and increase your power through their support. 

Unfortunately, I didn't feel as if the narrative was told in the most engaging way, despite being generally responsive to the conflicts that it was attempting to portray. I found the dialogue to be rather weak, sometimes bordering on infantile, and while I appreciated the presentation of tough choices, in the end, they often were reversible, or at least easily compensated for. 

The weight is taken out of a compromise when you realise that there isn't really a downside for either choice unfortunately, and finding that out was really rather disappointing. While I will of course not divulge into spoiler territory, it was also rather deflating to see the narrative climax reduced in part to single-slide cutscenes. This is understandable due to the size of the game, and is not out of place from what precedes it, but it did take the sting out of what was an ecstatic ending.

Bullet Hell Chaos

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It is within the actual gameplay that The Knight Witch positively shines though, as it ended up being an absolute joy to play from start to finish. As mentioned previously, the game employs deck building combat within a Metroidvania structure. While this is not the most original of concepts, it is thankfully executed in a tremendous way, with some additional tricks up its sleeve to keep things fresh.

Perhaps the most immediately apparent feature of The Knight Witch is its movement, which has you flying around both large open spaces, and tight corridors. This creates a whole new freedom of movement, which lets you approach and tackle each battle in a completely different way than you usually would. Fights often turn into bullet hell encounters, where you have to masterfully weave through an overwhelming barrage of enemy projectiles. Combine this with a reliable dash ability, and each encounter becomes a balancing act of figuring out when to fight and when to move.

What helps support this is an incredibly responsive set of controls that afford a great sense of flexibility and never once let me down. Flying Rayne around each room felt smooth and purposeful, with even the smallest of micromovements being achievable, allowing you to quickly swerve away from an incoming bullet. Furthermore, The Knight Witch has both manual and automatic primary fire inputs, allowing you to be more precise when you need to, and then focus on everything else when it gets a bit more chaotic.

In addition to your standard attack are your spell cards, which can be used at the expense of your mana. At each of the game's various checkpoints, you can build out your deck with the various cards that you have collected, ranging from different weapon types, lightning-based magic, and even ones that deflect or disperse incoming fire. Creating a deck that is perfect for your playstyle is not only essential to your success but also an incredibly fun activity. There are so many cards to choose from, and plenty of opportunities to pick up more or duplicate those that you like, so you are free to continue to experiment and find your ideal combination.

Tracking Back

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The Metroidvania aspect of The Knight Witch revolves, as expected, around using new tools and mechanics to unlock previously inaccessible areas. You move through the game rather linearly, being introduced to a new area with each new mission, with only minimal backtracking actually needed to progress through the game. However, there is plenty to find when trekking back through each previously discovered level once you've managed to find some of the game's new abilities. The dash, for example, allows you to traverse through vines and deadly lasers, and the sword can be swung into anvils to open up new doors. 

While very little of this is needed to progress through the game, it does give you a chance to rescue various lost citizens of Dungeonidas, who will increase your link - therefore making you stronger. There are also a handful of side-missions for you to complete, however, I wish there were a few more as it did feel like a lot of the people that you bring back to the hub are just left idle there.

One of the best things about The Knight Witch is how it keeps each main level and area fresh. Not only are there new enemies that you will have to adapt to, but each area has a new puzzle or way to progress that keeps things from ever feeling repetitive or stale. While one level might have you traversing in a submarine that can only shoot left or right, another has you using electricity to progress through a maze of open and shut doors. There are a handful of reused bosses, but they are different enough to still feel enjoyable, and certainly enough of a challenge to still work upon repeated runs.

Perhaps my only complaint with the general gameplay loop was the map, which felt a bit too restrained for my liking. It does do the basics well, tracking rooms as you enter them and marking the various checkpoints, but for a game that does encourage backtracking, it is disappointing to not be able to manually mark areas that you want to revisit, as it can often become challenging to remember exactly where a gated section was without traipsing through the whole area.

Stunning Backdrops

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From a visual standpoint, the game is just stunning. The backdrops and level features are just a joy to look at, with a great level of detail poured into each inch of the screen. There is just so much to be found within the backgrounds, as they extend beyond just a single layer, giving a fantastic level of intrigue to each new area. 

Furthermore, much in the same way that new puzzles keep the game fresh, there is a distinct new visual style to each new zone, and a wonderfully themed score to accompany it too. There was only one instance where the music became a bit grating and that was within the various ambushes and mini-boss fights. The fights themselves did enough to stay fresh, but it would have been nice if there could have been at least a few more themes to keep each of these encounters from feeling stale - especially if you end up getting stuck on one.

As a final note on the performance of the game, I did have crashes at two separate points throughout the game, but apart from that, The Knight Witch performed perfectly on PC. In the end, the crashes didn't actually have much consequence, as thankfully the game is very forgiving with its checkpoint system, and as far as I know, you don't lose anything upon death which is nice.

Overall, The Knight Witch was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that does enough to stand out within a competitive field. While it might not have the most spectacular narrative that does reach too far beyond the surface, The Knight Witch always keeps things fresh, and provides an engaging and flexible combat system within levels that never really becomes stale.

8/10

Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.