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A Witch's Tale

Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Hitmaker
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

A Witch's Tale began its lifecycle as a stylus-controlled Action RPG, but somewhere along the way, Hitmaker decided things weren't working out. In the process, the game went from action to point-and-click adventure. The switch isn't a failure, though it is clear the issues that may have caused the switch in direction haven't been completely cleared up.

Visuals are one of A Witch's Tale's few standout features. Admittedly, it was the only reason A Witch's Tale grabbed my attention at E3 2009 in the first place (which is really hard to do considering the panorama of flashy, moving images and short-skirted booth babes vying for attention). You'll hear it mentioned a lot, but A Witch's Tale pulls a lot of its inspiration from fairy tales - in particular "Alice in Wonderland." Many of the same visual motifs found in Louis Carroll's story, including the March Hare, playing cards and the Mad Hatter, are all here, but with a darker slant.

Unfortunately, there are a few hiccups along the way. Environments become incredibly repetitive (another theme that pops up throughout this review) about halfway through. There's an over-abundance of palette-swapped enemies and if you've seen one dungeon, you've seen its pieces in another.

Audio does what it can with the DS's hardware. Sound effects keep with the game's theme and show up just enough to be noticeable, but not so much that they grate on your nerves. Music is catchy and will stick with you. Since I began playing, I've found myself humming a few bars then struggling to remember where I heard the melody. Probably not a great endorsement for gameplay, but at least you know it sounds good.


Gameplay:

A Witch's Tale is a fairy tale with a bit of Nightmare Before Christmas tossed in. Liddell is a young witch who dreams of one day becoming the greatest witch of all time. Her quest takes her to a castle where she finds a book of magic. Liddell opens the tome, only to unleash the Eld Witch - who was sealed away thousands of years ago by the powerful witch, Queen Alice. The Eld Witch isn't happy about her imprisonment and its up to Liddell to clean up the mess.

Liddell's journey takes her through six worlds, each roughly themed around stories like "Alice in Wonderland", "Hansel & Gretel" and "The Wizard of Oz." Each plays out in a similar fashion: find three items, create a key and rescue the princess. There's a good bit of combat, puzzle-solving and dungeon exploring dispersed between the three steps, but for the most part, you're doing the same thing repeatedly. For the first few dungeons it is entertaining, but towards the middle of the game, I began to develop a gnawing pang in my gut every time a new dungeon was presented. I stopped trying to pull every bit of fun I could from the game and just wanted it to be over with. Not a good sign.


Difficulty:

A majority of your time in A Witch's Tale is spent wandering dungeons in pursuit of items, puzzles and an exit. Solutions are fairly easy to figure out, but a few technical issues complicate even the easiest of puzzles. Or really, the easiest of actions since the point-and-click interface has a really hard time keeping up with actions. But, more on that issue later.

As you would expect, a considerable amount of combat pops up while wandering dungeons. A Witch's Tale sticks with tried-and-true random battles, though the encounter rate is very erratic. You can go a few minutes without seeing an enemy, then hit three in a row without a moment to catch your breath. Not that three in a row is a problem; battles are incredibly easy. Liddell's mana pool is huge, negating the need for any sort of resource management when casting spells. There's also a balance issue between the amount of damage Liddell's spells do compared to what enemies can dish out.


Game Mechanics:

Similar to Phantom Hourglass, A Witch's Tale's control is stylus-based. The scheme works, or at least has been shown to work in other games, but here it never quite comes together. Tapping an area puts Liddell in motion, however the game will often times read attempts at interaction with objects as attempts at movement. Sometimes this isn't an issue - you need to be close to an object to use it - but when you spend 5 - 6 taps just trying to push a button, it's a pain.

Combat is first person and uses a simple touch-based system. Unlike movement/ interaction, there aren't that many issues when it comes to using the stylus. Over the course of her adventure, Liddell will find dolls that make up her party. I lost count on just how many dolls there are, but there's a fair chance you'll only find a handful of them useful. The rest just take up room or give you something to collect.

It's tempting to say A Witch's Tale will appeal to a certain type of player, but defining that sort of player is difficult. The art style and general idea behind the game are interesting, but mechanical issues really gum up the works. If there's any interest in the game, it is probably best to wait for a price drop unless you're willing to take a risk on a purchase.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Microsoft Xbox 360 DJ Hero Sony PlayStation 3 Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

 
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