Here is our review for The Knight Witch, a beautiful Metroidvania Shoot'em Up.
Review copy provided by publisher Team17 and reviewed on PC.
I don't even know how to start this review, outside of I, really, really loved The Knight Witch by Super Awesome Hyper Dimension Mega Team (great name by the way). It might be the best game I've played all year if I think in my personal metric, Fun Per Second with the only title coming close being Neon White. And similar to Neon White, The Knight Witch mixes two genres I would've even thought to combine and we get something that feels like a fresh never, seen experience. To put it short, The Knight Witch just hit me differently.
But let's start from the top. The Knight Witch, published by Team17, is an action-adventure with RPG elements in the style of Metroidvania. Some might roll their eyes now, thinking of all the cool 2D Dark Souls titles that have graced us. But no, The Knight Witch is no Hollow Knight or Salt and Sanctuary. Instead of going on the easy road of being a platformer, the developers decided to go with a bullet hell shoot-'em-up.
Who would've thought the organic exploration and progression of Metroidvania. With its ever-increasing arsenals of weapons, would mesh really well with the intense second-to-second gameplay of that genre? I was pleasantly surprised by it. Especially when you throw it together with some exceptional level design that offers unique challenges in almost every room. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
A Knight Witch's Tale
The story of The Knight Witch might trip up some people at first. It is brutally honest about the kind of adventure it wants to take you on, and you just have to be there for the ride to truly appreciate it. Don't think too hard about it first and trust me that the story will go to places that you don't expect. But the story goes as follows; after a great war against the Daigadai Empire left the world's surface inhabitable, humanity was forced underground into the maze of Dungeonidas. I use the term humanity here lightly because it's a fantasy game, there are skeletons that bake muffins but they're still humans, right?
The war was won by the four Knight Witches who are empowered by their connections to the people, which they refer to as the Link. The most powerful of all of them is Robyn, the one who brought down the emperor and put an end to the war.
Since then, 14 years have passed and the people have settled into their new homes. Making do with what they're given and trying their best to overcome their troubled past. We take on the role of Rayne, the youngest of the Knight Witches who never awakened to her powers like her sisters. So instead of being a celebrated war hero, she lives out her days with her husband, Akai growing and selling mushrooms. Until everything goes south and the remnants of the Daigadai Empire rise from the ashes to attack the people of Dungeonidas. Rayne must now awaken her powers to protect her loved ones.
The setup does sound a bit basic at first and the writing, in general, has cartoonish light-heartedness to it. But the entire cast of characters is so endearing and fun to follow around that it barely matters after a while. Especially since Rayne and Akai's relationship is something you don't really see in stories. You know, married couples are usually set up to have some drama baked in. But instead, you just get this really wholesome relationship between two outcasts that really care about each other and I found it hard not to love them.
And while keeping the cartoonish graphics and a general light tone, the game treats is the subject matter with a lot more grace than you might expect. There is some nuance here, especially when the game starts playing with your expectations and most importantly makes you responsible for your actions. In some situations, you can lie to people to gain extra experience points. If you tell the truth, you get nothing. And after finishing the game I don't know if this had any influence on the ending at all, I just know that I did what I thought was the right thing even when it meant I'll have to struggle more going forward.
Knight or Witch? Why not Both?
Let's talk Gameplay then. As mentioned earlier, The Knight Witch is a shoot-'em-up Metroidvania which means you'll have to navigate through complex corridors that spawl out in every direction. Since you can fly freely you can dodge pretty much everything by just getting out of the way while shooting. Yes, despite being a knight you actually shoot things with handy magic bullets that reach about half your screen.
If you're on a controller, there is an auto-aim function that'll lock on the nearest enemy while sacrificing some damage. And while you have full damage on the mouse and keyboard organically, dodging enemy attacks while manually aiming is significantly more complicated. So really skillful players can use this as an advantage and it's a neat little risk-reward kind of deal.
The game also has what seems to be the gimmick of indie titles this year, cards. Those make up your magic abilities, usually powerful attacks and temporary buffs that you get randomly shuffled into your hand. And those magic spells vary significantly in complexity and usage. Some just clear enemy projectiles around you; others are melee attacks or a temporary new default weapon. You're encouraged to change your deck up constantly, every ability feels helpful in its own way and you can really cater them to your own playstyle.
By the way, you can only cast those spells by using up the amount of mana required for them. Mana is dropped by enemies after death or receiving a certain amount of damage, which is why you always want to keep shooting and keep close. And there are some really disgusting ability combos. Going from a feeble witch in training to obliterating some enemies in just a few seconds is amazing. The Knight Witch in that way really rewards having a sense of mastery over its systems. Especially in the late game when you get the option to master earlier encounters for special rewards.
There is also an RPG element strapped on top of it. Your level or Link is defined by how much people trust you and you level up your link by either completing side objectives, freeing civilians, or good old-fashioned propaganda. Then you get to spend your levels on various bonuses for your normal attack or your magic abilities. You also get more life or mana from finding a growth seed that'll allow you to increase one of the two.
By keeping the numbers behind these resources small, every decision you make here feels meaningful. You'll notice the increase in damage or that one extra hit you can take. And every time you receive an upgrade through additional challenges or the story, it feels like a meaningful addition to your arsenal while also opening up new paths.
Exploration is King
It is very easy to praise a title for its wealth of content. But there are also a lot of games that just have optional content in them for the sake of fluffing up their run time. Not that this isn't the case in The Knight Witch, but just in Neon White earlier this year, I just went for 100% completion because I felt like it. And I plan to finish all the extra challenges later on a different save file while exploring the other dialog options and see if my choices actually had an impact on the story or not.
For me, this just speaks volumes to the joy of exploration and how well The Knight Witch plays. I played this game for a little under 20 hours within two days and I can't wait to get back to it.
So after the tutorial, the game will send you regularly to other sections of Dungeonidas. Each one with its own visual identity and more importantly gameplay focus. One is a complicated maze with huge open spaces. Another is about diving underwater or full of small, tricky corridors for you to navigate. Credit where credit's due, every single room in the game has its own thing going for it. There is a unique gameplay challenge or something fun to toy around with. And oddly enough these very Video Gamey rooms still manage to create a believable world.
They are also packed with little things to find. You can either find coins that you can gamble away for more abilities, these abilities themself, and people you can rescue. And there is a lot to find and explore, a bunch of optional rooms with challenging ambushes that honestly are just fun to play for their own sake. The game recycles certain bosses a few times, but you always fight them in a new environment that keeps the encounter fresh.
And the game also does an excellent job of rewarding you for going out of your way and finding all these secrets. There are optional notes hidden in the game world that reveal extra bits of the story, and skeletons that serve the Underbaker who bake armor and muffins for you. It's just so much fun and even when you have to revisit older areas with your newfound abilities, the backtracking never feels tedious.
The Knight Witch also features a bunch of small puzzles that are needed for progression. These are usually little logic puzzles that, to their credit, never repeat themselves and expand on established patterns or skill challenges that keep getting more demanding.
The Little Problems
Now I have gushed about the game intensively and I will continue to do so in a bit. But there are some problems and complaints, even if they are rather minor. One is that the enemy variety seems to fall off a bit after the midway point. Instead, you just get stronger versions of older enemies with a few extra gimmicks and there is even a lore reason for it. But a bit of the magic is a little lost here after a while. The game makes definitely up for it, though, by just combining certain enemy types to offer fresh challenges while also switching up the environments.
Another thing I noticed is the difficulty. In some areas, the difficulty will spike a bit harshly. And I can see players get a bit frustrated at these points. For me changing up my abilities or sometimes going off to explore some more did the trick. But it was not uncommon to run into challenges I was unprepared for. Then again, that may have been because I didn't go for the experience bonuses in the interview sections.
But if you're struggling, The Knight Witch features a judge-free cheat system which you can access from the options menu. There is a handy cheat hidden in the launch trailer that you have the developer's and my permission to use to make your life a little easier. I used it to practice the final boss until I attempted it for real to preserve my gamer honor. Honestly, for the casual game enjoyer, I think the difficulty, in general, is a bit tough. So make use of these cheats. Hopefully, by release, there will be guides out there so you can adjust your experience.
Art and Music
Back to being unreasonably positive about a video game. I think The Knight Witch is beautiful, I looked up the team's previous work with Rise & Shine and wasn't disappointed with it either. There is a certain charm to handpainted graphics, one that you just can't replicate with 3D environments and highly detailed photo scans. Especially the backgrounds in The Knight Witch get more and more stunning as you progress through the game.
While I don't want to spoil anything here, some later areas take an almost Dark Souls-Esque quality. These backgrounds tell the story of the dungeon we're venturing through and you can start picking up on its mysteries by just observing. I know this might sound like overpraise, but having fallen in love with games like the newer Rayman titles and Daedalic's Deponia series, this is just made for me and I could spend hours just gushing about it and pick it apart.
The music is also a league in its own, it's wild to have a title that can do both what some might call fantasy doodles music with fast-paced techno music. I don't know where their inspiration lies, but I have the suspicion that some people on this dev team have gotten really, really into Touhou. (You should get into Touhou. Trust me, it's not just a series of Shoot'em Ups. It's kind of like a never-ending art project.)
Whoever came up with the generic ambush theme, I want to thank you specifically for getting me super pumped whenever I ran into one of those rooms. At the same time, some of the encounters had me a little too very frustrated at times. The music was a joy to listen to and made dying to it actually fun.
9/10 My Favorite Metroidvania in Years
Hand-drawn Indie titles will always have a soft spot in my heart. And The Knight Witch is particularly up my alley and I really want to recommend it to everyone I know. The story comes off as a little disjointed at first but I advise you to stick with it. Once you get the full picture, later on, everything will make a lot more sense. Trust me on that one.
Everything else, however, is top notch and I barely even dare to complain about it. Yes, it can be difficult at times but the game just plays so well, and the abilities and pacing just stack up so satisfying that I gladly die to an encounter over and over. Exploration is equally as rewarding as learning the ins and out of combat and ability combinations, there is always something to find and you'll just organically start checking any nook and cranny for secrets.
The game looks fantastic. The characters are cute and charming and just ooze personality by their design alone. And the backgrounds and areas you'll explore are just a treat. Not only does every level have its own, distinct visual identity, but they also feel like places despite the whole game taking place in a gigantic dungeon. I don't want to spoil anything but the final area had a kind of tragic, haunting beauty to it in one room specifically and that image has been stuck in my mind since I first saw it.
And yea, besides my doubts at the start, the story of The Knight Witch turned out to be a beautiful and charming tale about love and doing the right thing. It is something many games do, but not many titles manage to bring these themes across with a heartfelt energy that really connects with me. If a game manages to get me to throw myself at its final encounter for two hours just to get the best ending, then I think its narrative worked perfectly.
It's probably because the world of Dungeonidas managed to feel like a mythic, magical place that I wanted to protect and see thrive again. So if you're looking for a game you can explore to your heart's content or just something that takes you on an endearing journey with lots of heartfelt touches, please buy this game. The Knight Witch will be available for Nintendo Switch and PC on November 29, 2022. The Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 versions have been delayed until December 2nd due to technical issues.
Thank you very much for reading, I have been ESTNN's resident weirdo Lahftel and you can check out more esports and gaming news and reviews here on ESTNN.