Commenting on balance can be a tricky proposition. When determining whether a gameplay element screws with the overall balance of the experience, how can you be sure that your perceived issues aren’t chalked up to user error or bad luck? Without analyzing design documents or playing a game for months and years, coming to know it inside and out, can one confidently call something “unbalanced?”
Conversely, is the mere feeling of unfairness not a problem in itself? After all, regardless of its mechanical validity, a feeling of unfairness can compromise a game’s reception, and cost it players. These sorts of feelings are especially critical during a game’s launch. And during the launch of Witch it!, these feelings are something of a problem. It’s a player-versus-player multiplayer game that’s launching with a distinct sense of imbalance. What could go wrong?
- What is Witch it!? It’s an asymmetrical multiplayer hide-and-seek game wherein a team of Hunters must band together with their perceptive chickens and trusty potatoes to track down a bunch of crafty, nefarious Witches. In turn, the Witches must arm themselves with all manner of hexes and charms to fool and confuse their pursuers.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Price: $19.99
- Developer: Barrel Roll Games
- Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
- Release Date: October 22, 2020
- Website: www.witchit.com
♫ Witch It! Good ♫
We’ll let those thoughts simmer for a bit. For now, it would be helpful to establish what exactly Witch it! gets right. Immediately striking are the visuals, which are cartoony and spooky and perfect for the Halloween season. If you’re looking for something other than a straight-up horror game to get in the mood, this is it. Both character design and cosmetics are distinct and fun, and the game consistently exudes charm.
Even the crafting system around the cosmetics has its moments — it’s an excellent way to break up the gameplay, and it’s fun when you get a cosmetic that prompts all sorts of ideas about putting together an outfit for your character. That said, the crafting screen is buggy and difficult to work with, often displaying the wrong number of ingredients you possess or jumping back to the first entry on the list, seemingly at random. But how does the game itself actually play? And what works about it?
In the primary game mode, a team of Witches must hide from a group of Hunters, primarily by transforming into various props scattered throughout the map (a la Prop Hunt in Garry’s Mod). The Witches can also supplement their transformations with various spells and tricks. For example, one viable strategy is to pick a suitable hiding spot, then take control of a Hexed Eye, using it to throw hallucinogenic mushrooms. This disorients the Hunters, disrupting searches and chases while you lie low.
Figuring out builds like this, paired with the inherent tension of hide-and-seek, comprises the primary appeal of playing as the Witches. It’s fun to experiment with different builds, and it’s always a thrill when you’ve staked out a decent hiding spot, and the timer ticks down to its last seconds. Picture it — everything’s riding on a knife’s edge, the Hunters are frantically searching all around you, and then the timer runs out and declares victory for yourself and your coven of elusive Witches.
Seeing this particular phrase quickly loses its luster when you’ve played a few games as a Hunter. Here we come back to discussions of balance and feelings of unfairness. In my first play session, I did not participate in a game in which the Hunters won until I explicitly endeavored to do so. Accordingly, when assigned to the Witches, I deliberately sabotaged my team, sacrificing myself to join the Hunters early. But even this took a few tries before I finally secured a win for the Hunters.
Bad manners aside, it illustrates the balance problems when hours of gameplay are so entirely one-sided. Subsequent play saw a slight uptick in Hunter victories, and there were more times when the games were close, but it did little to shake the overall feeling that the odds were stacked heavily in favor of the Witches.
One significant effect on the player here is that being the Hunters is continually frustrating. Don’t get me wrong — there’s still fun to be had, especially when you experience the thrill of catching a Witch. But it’s deflating to know that this will usually be too little, too late in terms of the match’s outcome. These real frustrations are also amplified by smaller annoyances.
Movement is so-so. The preponderance of props makes traversing certain areas clunky and irksome. It’s a nitpick, but given that chases form such a big part of the gameplay loop, movement could feel more fluid and fun. Hunter powers also feel somewhat limited and even ineffective compared to those employed by the Witches. This becomes especially distressing when a stampede of Hunters is trying to find the last Witch, a task that most frequently proves futile. Sometimes, a moment of glory comes, and you manage to bag the last Witch with seconds to spare, and everything about Witch it! starts to make more sense. With its current build and player base, however, these moments are exceedingly rare.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Despite charming visuals and solid mechanics for the Witches, Witch it! is held back by balancing issues, bugs, and smaller annoyances peppered throughout the experience. Being a Hunter simply feels too frustrating and too hopeless for long stretches of gameplay. A full release now feels like a ribbon-cutting for a building under construction, with scaffolding still up and features visible but unfinished.
- Exciting Witch gameplay
- Charming audiovisuals and atmosphere
- Crafting and cosmetics break up the gameplay nicely
- Balancing issues
- Bugs and clunky movement
- Frustrating gameplay for the Hunters