Combining Bullet Hell with Metroidvania Works Wonders in The Knight Witch

I am by no means a qualified game designer, but I think I’m correct in assuming it’s difficult to come up with something new and unheard of in today’s gaming landscape. How do you stand out as a racing game when there are so many quality racing games out there, both realistic and arcade style? A gimmick can only go so far: see the countless Mario Kart clones that rely on familiar characters to sell a subpar game. Something that has seemed to work though is mashing up two seemingly incompatible genres into one game. Something like Orcs Must Die, which brought us excellent third-person action with tower defense shenanigans. And I’ll always take a chance to shout-out Slay the Spire bringing together deck building with Roguelike RPG elements. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed The Knight Witch, a game that combines dodge-heavy bullet hell gameplay with the discovery and exploration of a Metroidvania, way more than I expected.

The Metroidvania-ness of The Knight Witch isn’t extravagant; it’s very straightforward. There are 5 or so main zones you explore, each with a theme and enemy variance. There are usually some puzzles and a boss to encounter in each, as well as some unlockable ability for Rayne, the main protagonist, to use in prior zones to complete previously unreachable puzzles or prizes. It’s a very run of the mill type of game given the genre. But that being said, it is still enjoyable to play thanks in large part to the beautiful visuals and presentation of the world. Bright, vibrant characters and equally impressive and varied backgrounds help to make your time exploring The Knight Witch’s world enjoyable.

It’s not all sunshine and roses however, as the stress and frustration comes in when the game’s bullet hell battles grow more and more difficult. After the tutorial you’re thinking “Oh neat! A shooter and a Metroidvania, that’s so cool!” only to be greeted with literal walls of different sized and shaped bullets barraging you from multiple angles, death surely imminent. You’re then probably thinking exactly what I was thinking, “Man, I was so close, this is crazy!” as you die and reload from your last save. This certainly isn’t the hardest shooter game or bullet hell I’ve played, but since I suck at both those games, I suck just as bad here, so I personally find it very challenging.

The last aspect of gameplay that really helps meld the two together are the magical abilities you can cast. Adding yet another genre into the mix, these are handled by randomly drawn spell cards from a deck. Assuming you have enough Mana, you can cast one of the three currently drawn spells. These range from massive attacks to decimate foes, to defensive abilities that can block and even destroy incoming enemy bullets. In a nice touch, after defeating a boss you typically collect a unique spell card from them, allowing you to cast one of their iconic abilities as your own (Hey, like Mega Man… another genre has been added!). Knowing when to use or hold your cards, and the type of deck you want to create add a nice tiny layer of strategy and customization to the game, which I’m here for! The randomness of it all will not appeal to everyone, but I found it manageable and even a bit exploitable given the right set of cards and Mana.

Plenty of Metroidvania’s are known for their gameplay over their story: the plot often takes a backseat to the action on screen. Take a look at something like Cave Story or Hollow Knight – both solid games but the story isn’t always the topic of discussion among players. I found the same to be true with The Knight Witch. The drama unfolds between two at-war nations: one that had to move underground to survive an onslaught from the attackers that now reside above. I was legitimately surprised there was a full on war going on between these two factions, as I was expecting something a little less dramatic given the somewhat cartoony art style (though I suppose a war would explain the bullet hell gameplay…). While I do not think I will remember The Knight Witch’s story years from now, I think I will remember it’s good use of characters to drive it. Rayne is personable, and you get to make choices on how you want her to interact with her fellow citizens and government. These tiny choices are nice from the role play aspect, but didn’t offer a ton for me in terms of captivating narrative.

Lastly, I need to criticize the controls. Just a bit. Just a teeny, tiny bit. Because that’s how minor a frustration they are. I felt like in my entire time playing the game, the controls were just ever so slightly too sensitive. For example, I could easily see an enemy shot incoming, and I could position myself between bullets with ease. But when I needed to make a small nudge of a shift, I would move too far and get hit. The response time from pushing the analog stick to my character moving was there, no question! But in a game where precise movement and positioning can literally spell life or death, this was a downer. Additionally, while we’re on the topic, there are quite a few instances where the game kind of forces you to just wait around or engage directly with danger. Enemies will start shooting in a pattern and you can expertly dash through it and risk taking damage, or you can wait a few seconds behind cover for the attack to end, then engage for a bit, and then defend again when they start their second offensive. That was a personal choice by me, but it did result in many an instance where I’m just chilling… floating there waiting to play the game.

Overall, The Knight Witch is such a good little gem of a game. I fear people will glance over it while they look for something more known that others are talking about. There’s a lot of charm here. The visual style is impressive and fun, the combination of gameplay elements work incredibly well together, and the whole package makes you feel truly accomplished when the credits role. Perhaps time will tell if the game goes on to live in hidden gem glory or if it’ll be forgotten along with the countless other Metroidvania’s being produced these days. For me at least, it’ll be one of those indie games that subverted my initial expectations.


DownStab has been a personal endeavor of mine for many years. Please enjoy the content and let me know if you have questions, comments, or just want to connect. And as always, game on.

– Jason J

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