Trouble Witches Neo Review
Developer: Adventure Planning / Publisher: SNK Playmore / Played on: Xbox Live Arcade / Price: $10 / ESRB: Teen (Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes)
How do you make the side-scrolling shooter genre better? SNK Playmore seems to think supplying a cast of anime witches and throwing a hell of a lot of projectiles across beautiful and diverse backgrounds will do the trick. Trouble Witches Neo is a side-scrolling shooter for the Xbox Live Arcade that is pure action and not much else. And that’s not entirely bad, but it’s not entirely great either.
The vague story propelling Trouble Witches Neo can be summed up in one sentence: You are an apprentice witch (no matter which of the eight different characters you play as) on a journey to prove yourself as a full-fledged witch. Each of the main characters flies around each stage accompanied by their loyal familiar pet–anything from a dog to a turtle kept inside a genie’s lamp–destroying wave after wave of enemies. The game starts off easy enough but the later levels quickly turn into a bullet hell fanboy’s dream. Skiing snowmen and flying whales send hundreds of high-speed bullets targeted at your witch’s broom, hoping to dash her dreams short. Of course you can avoid these projectiles if you have the skills (and indeed you have skills if you can dodge them all!), but what would a witch be without some magical powers of her own?
Trouble Witches Neo implements an interesting mechanic to aid you in dispatching foes. A quick press of a button turns your familiar into a life-saving shield that not only slows down bullets caught inside its radius, but completely stops bullets from penetrating its boundary. Keeping the barrier up is taxing on your spell caster, and her Mana will quickly drain, leaving you vulnerable once again to your foe’s attacks. This mechanic adds a great deal of strategy to an otherwise impossible opposition, and makes the game a lot of fun. On top of this, any bullets stopped by your shield are turned to money upon killing the enemy that ejected them. Money increases your overall score and can be used to buy items from the floating pumpkin shop that shows up randomly in each stage. Items can increase your health, Mana, and give you powerful attacks like lasers, bouncing shots, and even magical bombs. When it comes to intensity, Trouble Witches Neo keeps you on edge and is a blast to play.
It’s a shame, however, that there are only seven stages. While you can play each stage alone or with a friend online or off, there are no differences in levels aside from extra foes. A boss rush mode and score attack mode round out the play experience, but aren’t anything to get worked up about. Some unlockables like extra characters and an even harder difficulty (for the truly insane) become available after completing the game a few times, so completionists have something to do after beating the game once. I was disappointed that there weren’t more things to do here, since the core gameplay is exhilarating. More gameplay modes, more levels, and more action next time, please!
Each of the witches controls the same in terms of handling, but they all have different firing methods. Louie fires a beam that goes to the complete other side of the screen but sacrifices a spread of bullets to fill the screen, while Pril has a short burst that doesn’t reach far but eliminates anything close in front of her. Finding the girl that fits your play style should be easy, and the variety in their firing makes each one play just a bit differently. Controlling your characters is tight and responsive: if you end up dying it won’t be because of something wrong with the controller, it will be because of your own mistakes. Each stage-ending boss battle is epic and being precise with the controls is an absolute must; Trouble Witches Neo hangs with the best of them in this respect. My only complaint is that you cannot control your familiar. It will follow your character and go wherever you go, but it occasionally finds an inopportune location it can’t get out of because if you move you’ll die.
Graphics and Sound
2D sprites for characters blend beautifully with 3D backgrounds. You will most likely only see your character as you try to avoid countless volleys of bullets, but the backgrounds look fantastic. I’ve already mentioned the flying whales, but there are also erupting volcanoes, lush forests, and speeding trains. Anime-inspired character portraits fill the screen before each battle and during the loose story elements but look great, and add to its cute charm. In extreme contrast to this is the sound. I absolutely mean this when I say it: Trouble Witches Neo has some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard in a videogame. EVER! The girls sound like they come canned from a low-budget martial arts flick. I’m not sure if I actually dislike this, though: I found it to be hilarious whenever there was an extended dialogue sequence. Outside of the awful voice acting there are forgettable songs, even if you can hear them over the constant hum of the shots being fired and coins being picked up. The sound department is definitely a low point for the game, almost to an awesomely bad level.
Trouble Witches Neo is a mixed bag. The action and strategy implemented in an already demanding sub-genre of shooters is engaging and fun, but a lack of gameplay modes and stages cuts the experience short all too quickly. Dreadful voice acting, bland sound, and a lack of a compelling story keep the game from being stellar. Fans of games like these (especially anyone who has played the very similar game DeathSmiles) might find some interest in Trouble Witches Neo, but everyone else will probably be done with the game after a few minutes, bad voice acting and all.
6.5 / 10