I’ll come right out and say it. I’ve been a little bit cynical when it comes to Team 17 this year. Mostly because they seem like an indie publisher turned AA publisher who hasn’t quite found their niche yet.
We’ve covered quite a few of the games they have produced this year, including Thymesia, The Serpent Rogue, Ship of Fools, and a handful of others, and what has become clear from this coverage is that this publishing house is throwing a lot of things at the wall to see what sticks, and this has largely led to a stream of games that, while serviceable and dare I say fun, aren’t anything to write home about.
Despite this criticism, I always felt that there would be a tipping point in the form of a game that overachieved or did something to break the mold, offering something tangibly different in a sea of AA titles masquerading as plucky indies, and that game is undoubtedly The Knight Witch.
Full disclosure, when I jumped into this one, I cynically thought, ‘Ugh, a Metroidvania game with card-building aspects,’ which I think is a fair enough initial judgment considering how card-based mechanics tend to get misused. However, this game has proved me wrong, swept away those initial doubts or concerns with aplomb, and has thoroughly impressed me.
You may be asking, how has this title impressed me? Well, I would be more than glad to share with you why I think this game galvanizes the rather stale genre of Metroidvania and does more than enough to cement itself as one of the most impressive indies of the year. Without further delay, here is our The Knight Witch Review, conducted on PS5.
But, It’s for Kids, Right?
Let’s start with the story, because I feel this is where many will potentially switch off and miss out on a surprisingly gripping tale. From the outside looking in, this seems like a story that has some childish themes, some PG approaches, and uses cartoon superhero tropes to deliver the narrative.
Now, in terms of the base premise, this is pretty much the case; it’s like something you would find on Cartoon Network around 2010. You know, when all the classics were off the air. However, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.
This game’s success all depends on the quality of the writing, how unique the world is, and how unique the characters within the world are, and thankfully, this world feels fleshed out and fun to explore. The central premise revolves around Knight Witches, who are supernatural entities that rose to prominence when the world fell began to collapse after resources ran dry and those greedy corporate types, the Daigadai clan, wanted to abandon the planet to move to a new one, which they would undoubtedly wreck in exactly the same fashion.
Knight Witches grow stronger as more people believe in them, kind of like if Santa Claus was a super soldier on the front line. Through this support, the Witch Knights fought back and destroyed the oppressors, but sadly this planet was ruined beyond repair. So the people of this world retreated underground only to discover a hidden city with an abundance of resources. How convenient. From there, the Children of Gaia rebuilt, and after fourteen years of peace and serenity, it seems the Knight Witches are needed once again, and so begin’s your adventure as the forgotten 5th Knight Witch, Rayne.
It’s a cool premise with a surprising amount of lore and world-building throughout, and the game also manages to find a great balance between that cartoonish jovial spirit and moments of strife and dark themes. So it’s not a story for kids. It’s more in line with those books for angsty teens, and if that’s not a guilty pleasure you can get behind, then what is?
Clean, Crisp, and Colorful
Moving onto the visuals, it is probably the area that warrants the least amount of coverage, because while the visuals are super crisp and colorful, when compared to titles like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Hollow Knight, or practically any other well-received Metroidvania of this nature. They don’t raise the bar, so much as toe the line.
The cartoonish themes, the distinct character models, the instantly distinguishable levels and biomes, and the gargantuan bosses all do a great job of piecing together this world and its story. However, I can’t sit here and say that this game does anything visually jaw-dropping.
I will praise the sound design, though, as the OST for this game is super. Each new area has a track that perfectly fits the theme of the area. Whether it is the folksy fiddle riffs when you enter the Castle, or the industrial rock metal that blares as you enter an ambush, it always feels like the game has the perfect tune for each moment.
If I was being super critical, I would say that there could have been more variety in each section, as looping tracks become grating, especially if you get stuck on a particularly tough boss fight. Overall though, this game looks good and sounds great!
It’s not all sunshine and roses presentationally, though, as there are some technical issues that can become an issue throughout your high-octane journey. You see, the game feels like it was made with lesser hardware in mind. This is probably most apparent when you encounter hard-load screens, which are a rarity in modern gaming.
However, even putting those to one side, the game is prone to frame drops and freezing, especially when there are lots of enemies on screen and you trigger a spell card animation. This is by no means a dealbreaker, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention the technical shortcomings.
Note: While it was not something that I encountered, Super Mega Team has delayed the launch of The Knight Witch on all major consoles to Early December, citing a technical issue that causes the game to speed up, making sections near-unplayable. They aim to have a patch ready for launch, but consider this a disclaimer.
A Smorgasbord of Features
So first up, with regards to gameplay, let’s talk about the Metroidvania format and how this game set’s itself apart in a rather saturated genre. As a Metroidvania, this game does things pretty much by the book, having you start off as a Knight Witch in training, and over time you gain new powers, spells, and abilities that allow you to explore new areas, as well as allowing the player to gain links, and level up as results.
It doesn’t reinvent the wheel in that regard. However, what the game does include is bullet hell combat that sees you play this game as a side-scrolling twin-stick shooter, and while that sounds peculiar, it works incredibly well.
The closest comparison to this would be the wildly popular bullet-hell game, Resogun. This title borrows that side-scrolling format, and then marries it together with a world that gradually opens itself up for further exploration, which in practice is sublime. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to The Witch Knight’s amazing blend of features.
Take the card system, for example. I usually loathe a card system, mainly because it tends to feel out of place in most games. Back 4 Blood is a great example of how not to wedge in a card system, and if you want great examples, then look here.
Yet, in this game, the card system is great because there is a certain level of randomness to it, which means you can be as involved or detached as you like. There is a collectible aspect of it, which makes the hidden currency used to buy cards around the levels worth grabbing, and every card has a unique effect that will genuinely feel like another useful weapon in your arsenal.
Then you also have the dash feature, which somehow gives birth to platforming sections in a game where you literally fly everywhere. These sections of intricate movement feel akin to Celeste, and if you know your platformers, you know that’s high praise.
I could rattle on about the fun side quests, the armor options, features that encourage replayability like Radiant Suns and Frost Moons, and many of the other smaller details, but I don’t want to strip away these surprises from potential players. Just know this. This game is more than just a Metroidvania game. It’s multifaceted, it’s deeply engaging, and it’s bloody hard too!
Not Always Bossing It
To make another comparison, this game doesn’t just have a similar name to Hollow Knight. It also tries to borrow its format that sees you face off against bespoke and brutal bosses. Hollow Knight has some of the most memorable bosses within the Metroidvania sub-genre, and it’s commendable that Super Mega Team wanted to create bosses that would be held in the same regard. However, they never quite manage that.
The bosses within The Witch Knight often feel cheap, with attacks that are damn near impossible to avoid. They aren’t unique enough from a visual or narrative perspective as they all tend to be alternate versions of hostile droids with lasers, and even when they do pair you against a distinct villain, there is usually an exploit or a workaround that will see the fight fail to leave a lasting impression. Hint, if you want to cheese a fight, the Boomerang card is a blessing.
There was one particular fight quite close to the start of the game where you battle a robot with the ability to cast chains at you, but they almost always pen you into the corner of the screen and practically guarantee your demise as you watch on helplessly. It’s cheap tactics like this that only serve to frustrate the player, and that is, in a nutshell, why the bosses here don’t compare to the cream of the crop within the genre.
That Old Chestnut
‘It’s too hard!’ That old chestnut. I somehow have managed to dance around this topic until now, but you have a right to know. The Knight Witch is a really hard game. Much like Hollow Knight, this game prides itself on a jovial art style and colorful characters, but equally, brutally tough combat. It’s something that I immediately loved about this game, but something that many others might not takes as kindly to.
To the game’s credit, it gives you all the tools to succeed in the form of a level-up system with perks, and the spell cards that you acquire along the way. Plus, the game takes the classic Super Meat Boy approach of not keeping a player waiting to respawn, and thankfully the checkpoints are pretty generous throughout.
That being said, I think there is an issue with pacing within this game, and the difficulty curve isn’t so much a curve, but a big old zigzag with plenty of difficulty spikes to drive you insane. Take the opening section, for example. The player, when controlling Robin, engages in a super intense battle after the most minimal tutorial possible, and it sets the tone for the whole outing.
The tone being that this game pulls no punches. It’s this game’s version of Dark Soul’s Asylum Demon, and it’s bound to divide opinions. Again, it’s something that I liked, but for those expecting a cute little game that’s a walk in the park, you’re out of luck.
There’s a Knight Witch In Everyone
Ah, but are you really out of luck? You see, in a shocking turn of events, Team17 has overseen the production of a game that has great accessibility features. Something that I have criticized heavily about the last few games under their umbrella.
The Knight Witch has cheats that players can enable, which allows them to make the game as easy or as hard as they like. Now, you won’t be able to earn trophies if you enable them, but for those that just want to witness this game and have fun, this is a welcome feature.
However, this is nothing when compared to the auto-aim feature, which allows players to auto-lock onto enemies when holding the fire button near them, meaning that those who aren’t able to use twin-stick bindings can engage with the combat.
This does mean that the projectiles you fire deal less damage but the fact that you don’t need to aim at all will allow so many players who would otherwise be unable to engage with this game the ability to become a certified Knight Witch.
If you loved The Knight Witch and want some more Metroidvania-style action, some more card building or intricate platforming, or you just want a game that has more projectiles on screen for you to avoid than you can fathom, then these games will be right up your street! Check them out below:
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- Hollow Knight
- Enter the Gungeon
- Slay The Spire
Overall, I think this game is a real triumph. The indie scene is jam-packed with fast-paced Metroidvania games, card-building epics, and puzzle platformers. However, I have never come across a game that has so seamlessly blended all of these sub-genres together to make a truly addictive and cohesive final product.
The game looks great, sounds great, and has a story, that, while juvenile and predictable at times, manages to hold the player’s attention, offer laughs, and create bonds with the characters on-screen. Then the combat is fast-paced, satisfying, and provides a steep mountain to climb for those that love a challenge.
To further pile on the praise, the card system is simple enough that it doesn’t overwhelm you while still providing useful tactical options in battle; the game manages to keep things fresh by offering new and interesting powers, as all good Metroidvanias do, and in a shocking turn of events, a Team17 produced game has great accessibility features, which I love to see! This is a superb game, a surprise package, a devastatingly challenging adventure, and one of my favorite indies this year!
- A surprisingly gripping story with an abundance of fun characters and clever, humorous writing throughout
- Fast-paced and addictive bullet hell combat
- An ever-evolving stream of powers and cards to experiment with
- Wonderful accessibility features
- The game is pretty short, especially if you enable cheats
- The storyline is a little rushed and predictable at times
- Bosses leave a lot to be desired
Question: Is The Knight Witch A Metroidvania?
Answer: Yes, this game has all the staples of a classic Metroidvania game, with areas you’ll need to revisit with new powers later, and a general approach that rewards exploration. However, this game is also a bullet-hell title, a precision platformer, and a card-builder. As I said above, this game is pretty multifaceted.
Question: How Many Knight Witches are There?
Answer: There are four knight witches who fought in the war, but there are five Knight Witches in total, as you play as Rayne. A Knight Witch who wasn’t powerful enough to join the ranks, but when the chips are down, you are the best hope for this new underground society.
Question: How Many Cards Can You Collect in The Knight Witch?
Answer: There are a grand total of 43 cards that you can collect. Fourteen attack cards, nine weapon cards, eleven creation cards, and nine cardshark cards.
Callum played this game for a total of sixteen hours, playing right through to the end of the story with no cheats enabled. In a standard playthrough, he collected the vast majority of the cards on offer, and he managed seven Frost Moons and four Radiant Suns from boss encounters and ambushes. He will be going back for more to secure that platinum trophy.
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