Once again, it is time to talk about a flawed game that had potential to be great. A game that had so much potential, in fact, that it pains me to even have to write this piece to begin with. After finally completing everything in Ninety-Nine Nights (a game that I have been playing off and on since the god damn launch of the X-Box 360), I began to browse my extensive library of titles for a new game to distract me until the next Earth Defense Force is released. My eyes fell upon a curious little title called Bullet Witch, a third person shooter made by the now defunct Cavia. Yes, the same guys who made Winback, Drakengard, and a decent portion of those Resident Evil rail shooters that everyone is still on the fence about.
Before pondering why this particular game caught my eye on this day, one must wonder what appealed to me enough to buy it to begin with. Was it the package’s boast of “glorious environmental damage brought to life by an advanced physics engine”? Or perhaps it was the promise of upgradeable and transformable weaponry? No, sadly it was nothing so grand. What drew me into this game was simply it’s style. Let’s take a look. Hot chick? Check. Big gun? Check. Explosions and giant monsters? Check. This game was made for people like me.
The game was marketed as such, too. Free DLC costumes for your heroine, promises of an “exclusive poster”, and even a fan site on the Internet dedicated to Alicia, the game’s sexy protagonist. It’s like the game’s developers thought they had the next Master Chief or Anthony Carmine here, and wanted to cement her place in popularity. Alicia was even able to do something that no space marine would dare do to promote her game, by appearing in Playboy magazine’s “girls of gaming” spread. By the way, it’s really awkward to be hanging out with your roommate, scouring the Internet for a copy of that, even if it’s “for research”. The problem, however, is that the developers spent so much time and money on these things that they didn’t actually make a playable game. I am guessing that this is due to some bad decisions made by the marketing department, but this game screams “low budget” or “wow, we didn’t really think this through” in everything it does.
Now if you weren’t too preoccupied with laughing at Alicia killing herself with Telekinesis, or marveling at her ability to walk through solid objects, you may notice how incredibly bland the rest of the game is. Things pretty much boil down to “shoot skeleton army men guys, look for brain thing to destroy, move ahead.” You only encounter a small handful of bad guys to fill with lead, and most often they will be the aforementioned skeleton army dudes. By the way, those guys are awesome.
Awesome design for an opponent only goes so far, however. The enemies are incredibly stupid, doing such things as shooting at walls, running past you before realizing that you’re the target, and even KILLING THEMSELVES sometimes. Don’t you dare call them pushovers, though, because your character is made out of paper mâché. You will die. A lot. In really cheap and frustrating ways. Checkpoints are badly placed, and loading times are horrendous. Because of this, you will quickly develop a strategy of casting the same two or three spells over and over again as you slowly progress through each level. It gets old fast.
If things weren’t stacked against you enough already, casting spells is a chore, and you will often find yourself getting shot to pieces while trying to navigate your spell ring to cast those spells that are so important to survival. Oh, and the only way to refill your magic gauge is to kill enemies, so fucking up and casting the wrong spell is akin to suicide. With all of these GLARING flaws, why would you want to play the game at all? It’s unfortunate, because beneath the layers upon layers of awful is a little bit of charm as well as some interesting concepts. I feel like with the right kind of refinement Bullet Witch could be something really special. What would I do differently if I made the game, though?
For a start, the magic system needs a major overhaul. Magic should regenerate by itself over time, especially if we’re keeping the current system of having your magic double as your gun’s ammo. Killing foes could make it recharge faster, of course. This would help keep the game moving at a brisk pace. The spells themselves could use a lot of work, as quite a few of them are completely useless (rose spears, that goes double for you).
The great wall, which is your shield (and the only thing defending you from those one shot kill sniper fucks), should cover a semicircle around you instead of only directly in front of your character. Too many times have I thrown a wall up to hide behind, only to get shot from some weird angle anyway. Telekinesis should be replaced by a sort of “burst” thar covers a 360 area around Alicia. Currently the spell covers a weird area directly on front of her, often not pushing objects that you are pointing at. This kind of sucks, considering the spell is designed to be your “go to” spell. Instead of upgrades increasing it’s strength, they should increase it’s area of effect, with it always affecting everything within it’s “bubble”. The cost of the spell could be increased, of course, to compensate for it’s increased utility. It could even throw your great wall at people if you had one laid out, both to add to the idea of using multiple spells in conjunction and to prevent you from creating impenetrable fortresses.
Raven’s panic is one of the only spells that has any real use, but it would need to be toned down considerably to promote use of the rest of your spells. Currently the only strategy is to power up your gun with element shot, cast raven’s panic to stop people from murdering you, and then shoot them. Lather, rinse, repeat. On that note, the element shot spell for the guns is completely out of whack. The sniper rifle should ALWAYS have a zoom feature, and the shotgun shouldn’t use wind to push people away, considering it’s a close range weapon. Why not make element shot give the sniper rifle some sort of armor piercing or rapid fire property, or to be even more interesting, make it able to spot enemy weak points or see and shoot through walls or something, considering it has light element. The shotgun could simply get stronger. The spell for healing civilians shouldn’t even exist. Instead of having to go to your magic dial and waste time every time somebody gets shot, why not just run up to them and press the X button? It works for every other game out there.
Now let’s talk about rose spears. Oh boy, where to begin? It’s SUPPOSED to work like A grenade, but it’s weak, impossible to aim, and incredibly slow. The time and effort that it takes to try to throw it over a barricade could easily be spent jumping over the barricade and using the raven’s panic strategy mentioned above. Let’s give it an aiming arc, and have it change trajectory depending on how long you hold the button. Let’s also make it instant, instead of having to wait for the vines to come out of the ground a moment after the bud lands. For added lulz, let’s have it sprout out of walls or the ceiling if it hits those.
At it’s core, the way you select and use spells needs to be overhauled. As it stands, pressing one of the bumpers brings up a giant ring that covers the screen, pressing it more than once cycles to other groups of spells, and pressing a button activates the spell. You cannot shoot or dodge while you are doing this. On top of that, the ring covers your entire screen. Because of this, it’s incredibly easy to very Yourself killed or cast the wrong spell in the heat of battle. Instead, let’s make the ring smaller, and appear at the top corner of the screen. You would now have to hold a bumper and press a button, like using abilities in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. One bumper would be offensive spells, like rose spears and element shot, while the other bumper would be defensive.
Aside from overhauling her magic, Alicia seriously needs some mobility options. Currently her only real way to move around in a gunfight is an incredibly slow cartwheel. She puts her gun away, flips through the air, begging to be shot, and then has to pull her gun back out when she lands. That shit should be instant and fast. I should be able to flip over to an enemy, land, and blast them with a shotgun immediately. The gun delay should be removed altogether, and melee attacks should be faster and more useful as well. Hell, let her shoot while she’s in midair! The incredibly slow cartwheel is also the only way to jump on top of cars and other such terrain. Give this woman a jump button and some climbing actions if you want her to be able to stand on top of things. Re-balancing the guns and spells to promote constant switching and using your options in synergy, with smarter enemies and better movement would go a long way towards making the game a fast paced action game, as opposed to a mediocre journey in exploration. Adding a Dino Crisis 2 styled combo system would be a great finishing touch. The faster and more efficiently that you work your way through the levels, the more points you will earn towards upgrading.
Aside from a better written overall story, I’d like to see more emphasis on that mysterious voice talk talks to Alicia every now and then. He could work in conjunction with you, pointing out structural flaws onscreen, or objects that can be destroyed (such as the gas station and oil tanker in the first level, which I would like to see more of throughout the game, honestly). He could do this with one of those “stop the action and move the camera” moments, showcasing a point of interest while telling you to do something. Finally, I would like to see more objective based gameplay, such as rescuing soldiers or defending civilians from demons. It wouldn’t have to be required, but strongly recommended for extra upgrade points. Oh yeah, and fix the goddamn physics engine. Like, start over, or license one of the many that people more competent have made for this purpose.
Now, that was certainly a mouthful, wasn’t it? Is it even worth the effort to fix a game this broken? Probably not. The fixes I’ve described almost make Bullet Witch an entirely different game, but maybe a different game is what it would have been, if things had gone right in the first place.